Purpose: This meta-analysis was designed to evaluate the utility of preoperative axillary ultrasound combined with US-guided lymph node biopsy if indicated (AUS ± biopsy), in terms of staging the axilla and preventing two-step axillary surgery in the form of sentinel node biopsy (SNB) followed by completion axillary lymph node (ALN) dissection.
Methods: We systematically searched electronic databases for studies that addressed preoperative assessment of ALN status by AUS ± biopsy. A pooled estimate was calculated for the false-negative rate (FNR) of AUS ± biopsy (defined as the proportion of women with a negative AUS ± biopsy result subsequently proven to have a positive axilla) and sensitivity (defined as the proportion of women with a positive AUS ± biopsy result among all women with a tumor positive axilla).
Results: The pooled FNR was 25 % (95 % confidence interval [CI] = 24-27) and the pooled sensitivity was 50 % (95 % CI = 43-57). There was substantial heterogeneity across studies for both FNR (I (2) = 69.42) and sensitivity (I (2) = 93.25), which was not explained by between-study differences in biopsy technique, mean/median tumor size, biopsy indication, or study design. Sensitivity was increased in studies with a high prevalence of ALN metastases.
Conclusions: Preoperative axillary ultrasound-guided biopsy is a useful step in the process of axillary staging. Approximately 50 % of women with axillary involvement can be identified preoperatively. Still, one in four women with an ultrasound-guided biopsy-"proven" negative axilla has a positive SNB.