Histological evaluation of the first draining lymph node (sentinel node) in the axilla of patients with breast cancer has dramatically altered the surgical approach to these patients, with sparing of the axilla if no tumour cells are identified. In a fraction of patients imaged after peri-tumoural injection of the breast, there is no visualization of the sentinel node. We retrospectively analysed the status of patients whose nodes were visualized and of patients whose nodes failed to visualize, to define the variables associated with non-visualization of the sentinel node. Seventy-four breast cancer patients were imaged following peri-tumoural injection of filtered 99Tc(m)-sulfur colloid, immediately and up to 5.5 h post-injection. The scintigraphic data were analysed with reference to the patient's age, histology, grade, site and size of tumour, previous diagnostic procedure and time interval to scan, using univariate analysis and a logistic regression model. A sentinel node was visualized in 53 of 74 women (72%). Comparison of patients with non-visualized versus visualized sentinel nodes disclosed no statistically significant univariate relation to age of the patients (P = 0.10), size of tumour (P = 0.46), site (P = 0.26), histology [invasive ductal carcinoma in 16 of 20 (80%) non-visualized cases, and in 43 of 53 (81%) visualized patients], prior excision biopsy (P = 0.36) and time interval to surgery (P = 0.29). Tumour grade was the only significant variable on univariate analysis (P = 0.03), though multivariate analysis showed that none of the independent parameters were statistically significant. In 39 patients with an upper outer quadrant tumour, the location of the sentinel node was not limited to the axilla and even crossed the midline of the breast. Our results show that none of the independent variables is associated with non-visualization of sentinel lymph node on preoperative lymphoscintigraphy of patients with breast cancer, though the tumour grade may have contributed to non-visualization of this node. The non-axillary drainage from upper outer quadrant tumours suggests the routine use of lymphoscintigraphy prior to axillary dissection.
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View details for PubMedID 11233548