Purpose: To investigate the safety and clinical utility of the sentinel node procedure in early-stage vulvar cancer patients.
Patients and methods: A multicenter observational study on sentinel node detection using radioactive tracer and blue dye was performed in patients with T1/2 (< 4 cm) squamous cell cancer of the vulva. When the sentinel node was found to be negative at pathologic ultrastaging, inguinofemoral lymphadenectomy was omitted, and the patient was observed with follow-up for 2 years at intervals of every 2 months. Stopping rules were defined for the occurrence of groin recurrences.
Results: From March 2000 until June 2006, a sentinel node procedure was performed in 623 groins of 403 assessable patients. In 259 patients with unifocal vulvar disease and a negative sentinel node (median follow-up time, 35 months), six groin recurrences were diagnosed (2.3%; 95% CI, 0.6% to 5%), and 3-year survival rate was 97% (95% CI, 91% to 99%). Short-term morbidity was decreased in patients after sentinel node dissection only when compared with patients with a positive sentinel node who underwent inguinofemoral lymphadenectomy (wound breakdown in groin: 11.7% v 34.0%, respectively; P < .0001; and cellulitis: 4.5% v 21.3%, respectively; P < .0001). Long-term morbidity also was less frequently observed after removal of only the sentinel node compared with sentinel node removal and inguinofemoral lymphadenectomy (recurrent erysipelas: 0.4% v 16.2%, respectively; P < .0001; and lymphedema of the legs: 1.9% v 25.2%, respectively; P < .0001).
Conclusion: In early-stage vulvar cancer patients with a negative sentinel node, the groin recurrence rate is low, survival is excellent, and treatment-related morbidity is minimal. We suggest that sentinel node dissection, performed by a quality-controlled multidisciplinary team, should be part of the standard treatment in selected patients with early-stage vulvar cancer.