Intraoperative assessment of sentinel lymph nodes in breast cancer

Br J Surg. 2011 Jan;98(1):4-17. doi: 10.1002/bjs.7229. Epub 2010 Sep 1.


Background: Sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) reduces the morbidity of axillary clearance and is the standard of care for patients with clinically node-negative breast cancer. The ability to analyse the sentinel node during surgery enables a decision to be made whether to proceed to full axillary clearance during primary surgery, thus avoiding a second procedure in node-positive patients.

Methods: Current evidence for intraoperative sentinel node analysis following SLNB in breast cancer was reviewed and evaluated, based on articles obtained from a MEDLINE search using the terms 'sentinel node', 'intra-operative' and 'breast cancer'.

Results and conclusion: Current methods for evaluating the sentinel node during surgery include cytological and histological techniques. Newer quantitative molecular assays have been the subject of much recent clinical research. Pathological techniques of intraoperative SLNB analysis such as touch imprint cytology and frozen section have a high specificity, but a lower and more variably reported sensitivity. Molecular techniques are potentially able to sample a greater proportion of the sentinel node, and could have higher sensitivity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Frozen Sections / methods
  • Humans
  • Intraoperative Care / methods*
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Nucleic Acid Amplification Techniques
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy / methods*