Axillary lymph nodes suspicious for breast cancer metastasis: sampling with US-guided 14-gauge core-needle biopsy--clinical experience in 100 patients

Radiology. 2009 Jan;250(1):41-9. doi: 10.1148/radiol.2493071483. Epub 2008 Oct 27.


Purpose: To study the clinical usefulness of ultrasonography (US)-guided core-needle biopsy (CNB) of axillary lymph nodes and the US-depicted abnormalities that may be used to predict nodal metastases.

Materials and methods: This retrospective study was HIPAA compliant and institutional review board approved; the requirement for informed patient consent was waived. US-guided 14-gauge CNB of abnormal axillary lymph nodes was performed in 100 of 144 patients with primary breast cancer who underwent US assessment of axillary lymph nodes. A biopsy needle with controllable action rather than a traditional throw-type needle was used. US findings were considered suspicious for metastasis if cortical thickening and/or nonhilar blood flow (NHBF) to the lymph node cortex was present. The absence of any discernible fatty hilum was also noted.

Results: Nodal metastases were documented at CNB in 64 (64%) of the 100 patients. All 36 patients with negative biopsy results underwent subsequent sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB), which yielded negative findings in 32 (89%) patients and revealed metastasis in four (11%). All 44 patients who did not undergo CNB because of negative US results subsequently underwent SLNB, which revealed lymph node metastasis in 12 (27%) patients. Cortical thickening was found in 63 (79%) of the total of 80 metastatic nodes, but only a minority (n = 26 [32%]) of the nodes had an absent fatty hilum. NHBF to the cortex was detected in 52 (65%) metastatic nodes. Both absence of a fatty hilum (metastasis detected in 26 [93%] of 28 nodes) and cortical thickening combined with NHBF (metastasis detected in 52 [81%] of 64 nodes) had a high positive predictive value. No clinically important complications were encountered with the biopsy procedures.

Conclusion: Axillary lymph nodes with abnormal US findings can be sampled with high accuracy and without major complications by using a modified 14-gauge CNB technique.

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / diagnostic imaging
  • Adipose Tissue / pathology
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Axilla
  • Biopsy, Needle*
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery
  • Carcinoma, Ductal / diagnostic imaging
  • Carcinoma, Ductal / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Intraductal, Noninfiltrating / diagnostic imaging
  • Carcinoma, Intraductal, Noninfiltrating / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Lobular / diagnostic imaging
  • Carcinoma, Lobular / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymph Node Excision
  • Lymph Nodes / blood supply
  • Lymph Nodes / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lymphatic Metastasis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lymphatic Metastasis / pathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / diagnostic imaging
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / pathology
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler, Color
  • Ultrasonography, Interventional*
  • Ultrasonography, Mammary*