Sentinel lymph node (SN) biopsy performed with local anesthesia has a positive effect on patients' quality of life and on treatment management for early-stage breast carcinoma. This method represents an interesting development in breast-conserving surgery.
We performed SN biopsy with local anesthesia in selected patients to test the feasibility of the technique and its impact on our organization and on patients' quality of life.
Patients and Methods
From September 2000 to December 2001, we studied 115 patients with a palpable breast tumor (maximum diameter, 2.5 cm). The axilla was clinically negative for metastasis in all cases.
Forty-eight patients (41.7%) had SNs that were positive for metastasis. In 20 cases (17.4%), the SN was macrometastatic and in 28 cases (24.3%), it was micrometastatic (diameter <2 mm). The SN was negative for metastasis in 66 cases (57.4%). In 1 case, the histologic examination revealed the presence of a non-Hodgkin B-cell lymphoma. The complete axillary dissection performed in the subgroup of patients with macrometastatic SNs showed that in 9 cases (45%), the SN was the only positive node. In another 9 cases (45%), patients had fewer than 4 positive axillary lymph nodes; more than 4 axillary nodes were metastatic in 2 cases (10%). Among the 28 patients with SN micrometastasis, 21 received complete axillary dissection: 15 patients (53.6%) had no other metastasis to the axillary nodes and 6 patients (21.4%) had cancer cells in other axillary nodes. In case of micrometastasis, we suggested that patients enter the International Breast Cancer Study Group 2301 trial (15 of them accepted and signed the informed consent), which compared completion of axillary dissection with no further surgical treatment of the axilla. Based on randomization, 7 patients (25%) in the group with micrometastasis to the SN received no axillary dissection. Patients' tolerance to this kind of treatment was excellent.
Our experience indicates that SN biopsy performed with local anesthesia can be a suitable alternative to standard intraoperative evaluation with general anesthesia in patients with unifocal, early-stage breast carcinoma.