Lessons learned from 500 cases of lymphatic mapping for breast cancer

Ann Surg. 1999 Apr;229(4):528-35. doi: 10.1097/00000658-199904000-00012.


Objective: To evaluate the factors affecting the identification and accuracy of the sentinel node in breast cancer in a single institutional experience.

Summary background data: Few of the many published feasibility studies of lymphatic mapping for breast cancer have adequate numbers to assess in detail the factors affecting failed and falsely negative mapping procedures.

Methods: Five hundred consecutive sentinel lymph node biopsies were performed using isosulfan blue dye and technetium-labeled sulfur colloid. A planned conventional axillary dissection was performed in 104 cases.

Results: Sentinel nodes were identified in 458 of 492 (92%) evaluable cases. The mean number of sentinel nodes removed was 2.1. The sentinel node was successfully identified by blue dye in 80% (393/492), by isotope in 85% (419/492), and by the combination of blue dye and isotope in 93% (458/492) of patients. Success in locating the sentinel node was unrelated to tumor size, type, location, or multicentricity; the presence of lymphovascular invasion; histologic or nuclear grade; or a previous surgical biopsy. The false-negative rate of 10.6% (5/47) was calculated using only those 104 cases where a conventional axillary dissection was planned before surgery.

Conclusions: Sentinel node biopsy in patients with early breast cancer is a safe and effective alternative to routine axillary dissection for patients with negative nodes. Because of a small but definite rate of false-negative results, this procedure is most valuable in patients with a low risk of axillary nodal metastases. Both blue dye and radioisotope should be used to maximize the yield and accuracy of successful localizations.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biopsy
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • False Negative Reactions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymph Nodes / diagnostic imaging
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology*
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Rosaniline Dyes


  • Rosaniline Dyes
  • iso-sulfan blue