Pathologic analysis of sentinel lymph nodes

Semin Surg Oncol. Apr-May 2001;20(3):238-45. doi: 10.1002/ssu.1039.


The sentinel lymph node (SLN) procedure enables selective targeting of the first draining lymph node, where the initial metastases will form. A negative SLN predicts the absence of tumor metastases in the other regional lymph nodes with a high degree of accuracy. This means that in case of a negative SLN, regional lymph node dissection is no longer necessary. Besides saving patients the significant morbidity associated with lymph node dissection, it will also save costs. Crucial for the success of the SLN procedure is the screening of the SLN for metastases by the pathologist. To this end, several techniques are available such as standard histo- and cytopathological techniques, immunohistochemistry, flow cytometry, and molecular biological techniques. In this paper, the value of these methods for detecting SLN metastases is discussed. Some of these techniques have also appeared to be quite useful for intraoperative evaluation of SLNs. The standard protocol for detection of SLN metastases consists of extensive histopathological investigation including stepped sections stained with hematoxylin and eosin (HE) and immunohistochemistry. Intraoperative frozen section analysis and imprint cytology of SLNs have been shown to be reasonably reliable for detecting breast cancer metastases in SLNs. Further studies are necessary to establish the role of multiparameter flow cytometry and sophisticated molecular biological techniques such as reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) in detecting SLN metastases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy, Needle
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Frozen Sections
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy*