Background: Sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) is less invasive than axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) for staging early breast cancer, and has a lower risk of arm lymphoedema and similar rates of locoregional recurrence up to 8 years. This study estimates the longer-term effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of SLNB.
Methods: A Markov decision model was developed to estimate the incremental quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) and costs of an SLNB-based staging and management strategy compared with ALND over 20 years' follow-up. The probability and quality-of-life weighting (utility) of outcomes were estimated from published data and population statistics. Costs were estimated from the perspective of the Australian health care system. The model was used to identify key factors affecting treatment decisions.
Results: The SLNB was more effective and less costly than the ALND over 20 years, with 8 QALYs gained and $883,000 saved per 1000 patients. The SLNB was less effective when: SLNB false negative (FN) rate >13%; 5-year incidence of axillary recurrence after an SLNB FN>19%; risk of an SLNB-positive result >48%; lymphoedema prevalence after ALND <14%; or lymphoedema utility decrement <0.012.
Conclusion: The long-term advantage of SLNB over ALND was modest and sensitive to variations in key assumptions, indicating a need for reliable information on lymphoedema incidence and disutility following SLNB. In addition to awaiting longer-term trial data, risk models to better identify patients at high risk of axillary metastasis will be valuable to inform decision-making.