Lymphatic mapping and sentinel lymph node biopsy in early-stage breast carcinoma: a metaanalysis

Cancer. 2006 Jan 1;106(1):4-16. doi: 10.1002/cncr.21568.


Background: Lymphatic mapping with sentinel lymph node biopsy has the potential for reducing the morbidity associated with breast carcinoma staging. It has become a widely used technology despite limited data from controlled clinical trials.

Methods: A systematic review of the world's literature of sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy in patients with early-stage breast carcinoma was undertaken by using electronic and hand searching techniques. Only studies that incorporated full axillary lymph node dissection (ALND), regardless of SLN results, were included. Individual study results along with weighted summary measures were estimated using the Mantel-Haenszel method. The correlations of outcomes with the study size, the proportion of positive lymph nodes, the technique used, and the study quality were evaluated.

Results: Between 1970 and 2003, 69 trials were reported that met eligibility criteria. Of the 8059 patients who were studied, 7765 patients (96%) had successfully mapped SLNs. The proportion of patients who had successfully mapped SLNs ranged from 41% to 100%, with > 50% of studies reporting a rate < 90%. Lymph node involvement was found in 3132 patients (42%) and ranged from 17% to 74% across studies. The false-negative rate (FNR) ranged from 0% to 29%, averaging 7.3% overall. Eleven trials (15.9%) reported an FNR of 0.0, whereas 26 trials (37.7%) reported an FNR > 10%. Significant inverse correlations were observed between the FNR and both the number of patients studied (r = - 0.42; P < 0.01) and the proportion of patients who had successfully mapped SLNs nodes (r = - 0.32; P = 0.009).

Conclusions: Lymphatic mapping with SLN biopsy is used widely to reduce the complications associated with ALND in patients with low-risk breast carcinoma. This systematic review revealed a wide variation in test performance.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery
  • False Negative Reactions
  • Humans
  • Lymph Node Excision
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy*