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AXILLARY LYMPH NODE DISSECTION IN BREAST CANCER PATIENTS. THE ROLE OF SENTINEL LYMPH NODE BIOPSY
Rationale. Since its introduction in the early 1990s, sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) is regarded as the standard treatment for patients with clinically negative axillary lymph nodes (LNs) on initial presentation. Classically, when the SLN biopsy is negative, the axillary LN dissection (ALND) is no further necessary. On the other hand, performing complete ALND in case of a positive SLNB is controversial, recent data from randomized controlled studies suggesting that, in these cases, the tumor biology has a greater impact on the adjuvant treatment decision than the completion of an ALND.
Objective. The aim of this review is to ascertain whether axillary LN surgery has survival benefits in women with early breast cancer and SLN involvement, either micro-metastatic or macro-metastatic. Moreover, it tries to assess the value of SLN biopsy before and after primary systemic chemotherapy and its role in the staging of the axilla in locally recurrent breast cancer.
Materials and method. We searched Pubmed, Medline, the Cochrane Register of Controlled Trials and G.I.N (Guidelines International Network) databases for English language articles about the need of ALND in women with both positive and negative SLNs using controlled vocabulary (e.g. “breast cancer”) and key words (e.g “sentinel lymph node”, “axilla dissection”). The analysis was restricted to retrospective studies and randomized controlled trials focusing on survival benefits in terms overall (OS) or disease-free survival (DFS).
Conclusions. There is increasing evidence which indicates that ALND can be avoided in a specific group of patients with early breast cancer, even though the SLNB is positive. A correlation between the clinico-pathological features of the breast cancer and the probability of residual disease in the axilla, could allow the selection of cases in which ALND can be omitted. In the context of neo-adjuvant chemotherapy, it is not yet established if positive SLNs could be converted to negative SLNs after chemotherapy as the rate of false-negative results is still high.
Keywords: sentinel lymph node, breast cancer, biopsy, axillary dissection