Preoperative lymphoscintigraphy for breast cancer does not improve the ability to identify axillary sentinel lymph nodes

Ann Surg. 2000 May;231(5):724-31. doi: 10.1097/00000658-200005000-00013.


Objective: To evaluate the role of preoperative lymphoscintigraphy in sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy for breast cancer.

Summary background data: Numerous studies have demonstrated that SLN biopsy can be used to stage axillary lymph nodes for breast cancer. SLN biopsy is performed using injection of radioactive colloid, blue dye, or both. When radioactive colloid is used, a preoperative lymphoscintigram (nuclear medicine scan) is often obtained to ease SLN identification. Whether a preoperative lymphoscintigram adds diagnostic accuracy to offset the additional time and cost required is not clear.

Methods: After informed consent was obtained, 805 patients were enrolled in the University of Louisville Breast Cancer Sentinel Lymph Node Study, a multiinstitutional study involving 99 surgeons. Patients with clinical stage T1-2, N0 breast cancer were eligible for the study. All patients underwent SLN biopsy, followed by level I/II axillary dissection. Preoperative lymphoscintigraphy was performed at the discretion of the individual surgeon. Biopsy of nonaxillary SLNs was not required in the protocol. Chi-square analysis and analysis of variance were used for statistical comparison.

Results: Radioactive colloid injection was performed in 588 patients. In 560, peritumoral injection of isosulfan blue dye was also performed. A preoperative lymphoscintigram was obtained in 348 of the 588 patients (59%). The SLN was identified in 221 of 240 patients (92.1%) who did not undergo a preoperative lymphoscintigram, with a false-negative rate of 1.6%. In the 348 patients who underwent a preoperative lymphoscintigram, the SLN was identified in 310 (89.1%), with a false-negative rate of 8.7%. A mean of 2.2 and 2. 0 SLNs per patient were removed in the groups without and with a preoperative lymphoscintigram, respectively. There was no statistically significant difference in the SLN identification rate, false-negative rate, or number of SLNs removed when a preoperative lymphoscintigram was obtained.

Conclusions: Preoperative lymphoscintigraphy does not improve the ability to identify axillary SLN during surgery, nor does it decrease the false-negative rate. Routine preoperative lymphoscintigraphy is not necessary for the identification of axillary SLNs in breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Axilla
  • Biopsy
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery
  • False Negative Reactions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymph Nodes / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Middle Aged
  • Preoperative Care
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Rosaniline Dyes
  • Technetium Tc 99m Sulfur Colloid


  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Rosaniline Dyes
  • iso-sulfan blue
  • Technetium Tc 99m Sulfur Colloid