Background: Sentinel node (SN) biopsy is the standard method to evaluate axillary node involvement in breast cancer (BC). Positron emission tomography with 2-(fluorine-18)-fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose (FDG-PET) provides a non-invasive tool to evaluate regional nodes in BC in a metabolic-dependent, biomolecular-related way. In 1999, we initiated a prospective non-randomized study to compare these two methods and to test the hypothesis that FDG-PET results reflect biomolecular characteristics of the primary tumor, thereby yielding valuable prognostic information.
Patients and methods: A total of 145 cT1N0 BC patients, aged 24-70 years, underwent FDG-PET and lymphoscintigraphy before surgery. SN biopsy was followed in all cases by complete axillary dissection. Pathologic evaluation in tissue sections for involvement of the SN and other non-SN nodes served as the basis of the comparison between FDG-PET imaging and SN biopsy.
Results: FDG-PET and SN biopsy sensitivity was 72.6% and 88.7%, respectively, and negative predictive values were 80.5% and 92.2%, respectively. A subgroup of more aggressive tumors (ER-GIII, Her2+) was found mainly in the FDG-PET true-positive (FDG-PET+) patients, whereas LuminalA, Mib1 low-rate BCs were significantly undetected (p = 0.009) in FDG-PET false-negative (FDG-PET-) patients. Kaplan-Meier survival estimates after a median follow-up of more than 8 years showed significantly worse overall survival for FDG-PET+ patients in node-positive (N+) patients (p = 0.035) as compared to N+/FDG-PET- patients, which overlapped with survival curves of N- and FDG-PET+ or - patients.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that FDG-PET results reflect intrinsic biologic features of primary BC tumors and have prognostic value with respect to nodal metastases. FDG-PET false negative cases appear to identify less aggressive indolent metastases. The possibility to identify a subgroup of N+ BC patients with an outcome comparable with N- BC patients could reduce the surgical and adjuvant therapeutic intervention.
Keywords: Adjuvant treatment; Breast cancer; Positron emission tomography; Prognosis; Sentinel node biopsy; Surgery.
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