Background: The goals of axillary-lymph-node dissection (ALND) are to maximise survival, provide regional control, and stage the patient. However, this technique has substantial side-effects. The purpose of the B-32 trial is to establish whether sentinel-lymph-node (SLN) resection can achieve the same therapeutic goals as conventional ALND but with decreased side-effects. The aim of this paper is to report the technical success and accuracy of SLN resection plus ALND versus SLN resection alone.
Methods: 5611 women with invasive breast cancer were randomly assigned to receive either SLN resection followed by immediate conventional ALND (n=2807; group 1) or SLN resection without ALND if SLNs were negative on intraoperative cytology and histological examination (n=2804; group 2) in the B-32 trial. Patients in group 2 underwent ALND if no SLNs were identified or if one or more SLNs were positive on intraoperative cytology or subsequent histological examination. Primary endpoints, including survival, regional control, and morbidity, will be reported later. Secondary endpoints are accuracy and technical success and are reported here. This trial is registered with the Clinical Trial registry, number NCT00003830.
Findings: Data for technical success were available for 5536 of 5611 patients; 75 declined protocol treatment, had no SLNs removed, or had no SLN resection done. SLNs were successfully removed in 97.2% of patients (5379 of 5536) in both groups combined. Identification of a preincision hot spot was associated with greater SLN removal (98.9% [5072 of 5128]). Only 1.4% (189 of 13171) of SLN specimens were outside of axillary levels I and II. 65.1% (8571 of 13 171) of SLN specimens were both radioactive and blue; a small percentage was identified by palpation only (3.9% [515 of 13 171]). The overall accuracy of SLN resection in patients in group 1 was 97.1% (2544 of 2619; 95% CI 96.4-97.7), with a false-negative rate of 9.8% (75 of 766; 95% CI 7.8-12.2). Differences in tumour location, type of biopsy, and number of SLNs removed significantly affected the false-negative rate. Allergic reactions related to blue dye occurred in 0.7% (37 of 5588) of patients with data on toxic effects.
Interpretation: The findings reported here indicate excellent balance in clinical patient characteristics between the two randomised groups and that the success of SLN resection was high. These findings are important because the B-32 trial is the only trial of sufficient size to provide definitive information related to the primary outcome measures of survival and regional control. Removal of more than one SLN and avoidance of excisional biopsy are important variables in reducing the false-negative rate.