Background: Sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy is being investigated as a staging procedure for breast carcinoma. The authors evaluated whether immunohistochemical (IHC) analysis improves the sensitivity of this procedure.
Methods: Forty-four women with breast carcinoma were recruited for SLN biopsy. Preoperative lymphoscintigraphy was followed by intraoperative localization using a handheld gamma probe and blue dye. After SLN identification, an immediate complete axillary lymph node dissection was performed in all patients. All lymph nodes were subjected to routine histology (hematoxylin and eosin [H&E]) and IHC using antibody to cytokeratins.
Results: The SLN was identified in 41 of 43 patients (95%). Successful SLN identification was independent of biopsy technique (open surgical [95%] vs. fine-needle aspiration/core needle biopsy [96%]). Twelve of 41 patients (29%) had evidence of lymph node metastasis in the SLN by routine histology. Of the twenty-nine patients with H&E negative SLN, 3 were found to have metastasis by IHC for a conversion rate of 10%. Fifteen of 41 patients (37%) had evidence of metastasis in SLN. All 26 patients with H&E and IHC negative SLN had negative nonsentinel lymph nodes by routine histology and IHC (100% negative predictive value). All patients with tumors < 2 cm and micrometastasis to the SLN had no additional lymph node disease, in contrast to patients with lesions > 2 cm or patients with macrometastasis to the SLN (P = 0.007).
Conclusions: These results confirm that SLN biopsy is extremely accurate for patients with breast carcinoma, even after open surgical biopsy. IHC analysis or serial sectioning of SLN improves the sensitivity of this staging technique.