Current opinion in oncology vol:17 issue:6 pages:539-544
PURPOSE OF REVIEW: The objective of the sentinel lymph node procedure in breast cancer is to perform an accurate axillary staging and provide good local control, while sparing the patients the morbidity of an axillary lymph node dissection. Since its routine clinical use, questions were raised concerning the implications for local and systemic adjuvant treatment. This review provides an update of the recent literature. RECENT FINDINGS: As a result of a more detailed histopathologic work-up of the sentinel lymph node, higher rates of lymph node metastases are detected. This leads to an upstaging of a subset of node-negative patients and an increase in the overall percentage of node-positive patients. However, the clinical implications of micrometastases and isolated tumor cells remain unclear. Furthermore, sentinel lymph nodes may be found in the internal mammary lymph node chain but the treatment of these nodes is subject of debate. SUMMARY: Current guidelines recommend axillary lymph node dissection in patients with a positive sentinel node. The surgical removal of the internal mammary lymph node is only indicated in the context of a clinical trial. Radiation therapy of the axilla is an acceptable alternative for patients who refuse an axillary lymph node dissection (clinical trial). The value of radiotherapy to the internal mammary lymph node has never been established. Systemic treatment decisions in patients with a macrometastasis or micrometastasis in the sentinel lymph node follow the guidelines of node-positive patients, whereas in patients with isolated tumor cells only, guidelines for node-negative patients are followed. The results of ongoing clinical trials will be important for the development of further guidelines.