Clinical impact of false-negative sentinel lymph nodes in breast cancer

G. Zavagno, P. Del Bianco, H. Koussis, G. Artioli, P. Carraro, G. L. De Salvo, R. Mencarelli, V. Belardinelli, G. Marconato, D. Nitti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aims: To evaluate the incidence of false-negative (FN) sentinel lymph node (SLN) cases, their correlation with a series of clinico-pathologic parameters and their impact on adjuvant treatment indications and on clinical axillary relapse in the setting of a multicentric clinical trial comparing SLN biopsy with axillary lymph node dissection (ALND). Methods: A series of 697 patients with primary breast cancer ≤ 3 cm were randomized to SLN biopsy associated with ALND (ALND arm) or to SLN biopsy followed by ALND only if the SLN was metastatic (SLN arm). The FN SLN rate was assessed in the ALND arm. A series of 11 clinico-pathological parameters were tested for a possible association with FN results. The indications for adjuvant treatments were evaluated by considering both the FN nodal stages, as indicated by the SLN, and the true positive axillary status, as indicated by completion ALND. The occurrence of clinically evident axillary recurrences was evaluated in the two arms. Results: The FN rate was 16.7%. Of the clinico-pathologic parameters tested, only a tumour size ≤ 2 cm and the presence of a single metastatic axillary node was significantly associated with a risk of FN (p = 0.033 and p = 0.018, respectively). The FN SLN would have led to different adjuvant therapy indications in 12/18 cases. At 56 months, no clinically evident axillary nodal recurrences were present in the ALND arm patients, whereas one case of axillary recurrence was detected in the SLN arm patients. Conclusions: FN SLN biopsy is not uncommon, especially in the presence of a small primary tumour with a single nodal metastasis. An FN finding can lead to less than optimal adjuvant treatment. However, the clinical impact of FN in terms of axillary recurrence at 56 months was minimal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)620-625
Number of pages6
JournalEuropean Journal of Surgical Oncology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008


  • Axillary lymph node dissection
  • Breast cancer
  • False negative
  • Sentinel lymph node

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Surgery


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