Objective: In esophageal cancer, selective removal of involved lymph nodes could improve survival and limit complications from extended lymphadenectomy. Mapping with vital blue dyes or technetium Tc-99m often fails to identify intrathoracic sentinel lymph nodes. Our purpose was to develop an intraoperative method for identifying sentinel lymph nodes of the esophagus with high-sensitivity near-infrared fluorescence imaging.
Methods: Six Yorkshire pigs underwent thoracotomy and received submucosal, esophageal injection of quantum dots, a novel near-infrared fluorescent lymph tracer designed for retention in sentinel lymph nodes. Six additional pigs underwent thoracotomy and received submucosal esophageal injection of CW800 conjugated to human serum albumin, another novel lymph tracer designed for uptake into distant lymph nodes. Finally, 6 pigs received submucosal injection of the fluorophore-conjugated albumin with an endoscopic needle through an esophagascope. These lymph tracers fluoresce in the near-infrared, permitting visualization of migration to sentinel lymph nodes with a custom intraoperative imaging system.
Results: Injection of the near-infrared fluorescent lymph tracers into the esophagus revealed communicating lymph nodes within 5 minutes of injection. In all 6 pigs that received quantum dot injection, only a single sentinel lymph node was identified. Among pigs that received fluorophore-conjugated albumin injection, in 5 of 12 a single sentinel lymph node was revealed, but in 7 of 12 two sentinel lymph nodes were identified. There was no dominant pattern in the appearance of the sentinel lymph nodes either cranial or caudal to the injection site.
Conclusion: Near-infrared fluorescence imaging of sentinel lymph nodes is a novel and reliable intraoperative technique with the power to assist with identification and resection of esophageal sentinel lymph nodes.