Sentinel lymph node micrometastasis in human breast cancer: an update

Surg Oncol. 2011 Dec;20(4):e195-206. doi: 10.1016/j.suronc.2011.06.006. Epub 2011 Jul 23.


Introduction: The advent of sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) and advances in histopathological and molecular analysis techniques have been associated with an increase in micrometastasis (MM) detection rate. However, the clinical significance of sentinel lymph node micrometastasis (SLN MM) continues to be a subject of much debate. In this article we review the literature concerning SLN MM, with particular emphasis on the prognostic significance of SLN MM. The controversies regarding histopathological assessment, clinical relevance and management implications are also discussed.

Methods: Literature review facilitated by Medline and PubMed databases. Cross referencing of the obtained articles was used to identify other relevant studies.

Results: Published studies have reported divergent and rather conflicting results regarding the clinical significance and implications of axillary lymph node (ALN) MM in general and SLN MM in particular. Some earlier studies demonstrated no associations, however most recent studies have found SLN MM to be an indicator of poorer prognosis and to be associated with non-SLN involvement. The use of adjuvant chemotherapy and/or hormonal manipulation therapy is associated with an improved survival in patients with SLN MM. Complete ALND may be safely omitted provided that adjuvant systemic therapy recommendations are equal to patients with node-positive disease. However, optimal management of SLN MM is yet to conclude. Furthermore, the identification of MM remains largely dependent on the analytical technique employed and the use of immunohistochemistry (IHC) increases the detection rate of SLN MM. Discrepancies in the histopathological interpretation of TNM classification of SLN tumour burden do exist. Published studies were non-randomized and have significant limitations including a small sample size, limited follow-up period, and lack of standardization and reproducibility of pathological examination of the SLN.

Conclusion: Patients with SLN MM have a poorer prognosis than those who are SLN negative. Therapeutic recommendations regarding patients with SLN MM should be taken in the context of multidisciplinary team setting and in selected cases of SLN MM, complete ALND may be safely omitted. A better reproducibility of pathological interpretation of the TNM classification is required so that future therapeutic guidelines can be applied without confusion.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Micrometastasis
  • Review Literature as Topic
  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy*