Background: The sentinel node procedure for breast cancer allows for accurate staging of the axilla while the axillary node dissection can be avoided in patients with no sentinel node metastasis. This study describes those patients in whom an axillary dissection is performed, depending on the outcome of the sentinel node procedure, with particular emphasis on the use of strict criteria for the procedure and its practical limitations.
Methods: Preoperative lymphoscintigraphy was performed in 115 consecutive patients. The sentinel nodes were located with the use of a gamma probe and blue dye. Axillary dissection was performed at the same time when the sentinel node procedure was positive by frozen section or not successful by the criteria used.
Results: The sentinel node procedure was successful in 106 patients, with the sentinel node being both radioactive and blue in 94% of these patients. The frozen section was positive in 21 of 37 patients with sentinel node metastases. Axillary dissection could be avoided in 69 patients.
Conclusions: The triple technique (with the use of lymphoscintigraphy, the gamma probe, and the blue dye) gives a high success rate of the sentinel node procedure, even when strict criteria for a successful sentinel node procedure are used. Palpation of the open axilla for metastatic nonsentinel nodes is advocated.