BACKGROUND - We evaluated the accuracy of sentinel lymph node dissection (SLND) in patients with stage II and III breast cancer who had received preoperative therapy.
METHODS - A prospective clinical trial evaluated 122 patients who had SLND followed by axillary lymph node dissection. Thirty-two women had stage II or III breast cancer and received preoperative doxorubicin-based chemotherapy or paclitaxel and radiotherapy.
RESULTS - A sentinel lymph node (SLN) was identified in 31 (97%) of 32 patients. The SLN predicted the status of the axillary nodes in 30 (97%) of 31 patients. Eighteen (58%) of 31 had metastases in the SLN. Eighteen of 19 patients with axillary metastases had a tumor-positive SLN (sensitivity, 95%; false-negative rate, 5%). Eight (44%) of 18 women with metastases in the SLN also had metastases in 1 or more nonsentinel nodes.
CONCLUSIONS - In this relatively small study, the accuracy of SLND in women with stage II or III breast cancer treated with preoperative therapy was similar to that achieved in early-stage breast cancer. If these results are confirmed in a larger cohort, it may be feasible to substitute SLND for routine axillary lymph node dissection in this population. This approach could reduce the morbidity of surgical therapy while preserving the accuracy of axillary staging and maintaining regional control in this high-risk population.