Ratio of Positive to Total Number of Sentinel Nodes Predicts Nonsentinel Node Status in Breast Cancer Patients


Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Stanley P. L. Leong, MD, Department of Surgery, UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion, 1600 Divisadero St., San Francisco, CA 94143-1674, USA, or e-mail: leongs@surgery.ucsf.edu.


Abstract:  Selective sentinel lymphadenectomy (SSL) has replaced axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) for many patients with early breast cancer and negative sentinel lymph nodes (SLNs). Yet many patients with a positive SLN are undergoing unnecessary ALND, as no further disease is found in the axilla. The aim of our study was to determine factors associated with additional positive lymph nodes in the axilla in patients who have a positive SLN. This was a retrospective study of patients undergoing SSL with ALND as part of their treatment for breast cancer at a single institution from November 1997 to August 2003. Only patients with one or more positive SLNs were selected for this study. There were 86 patients who fit our study criteria. Of these, 38% had further positive lymph nodes upon ALND. More than one positive SLN and a ratio of positive SLNs to total SLNs of greater than 0.5 were found to be predictors for additional axillary nodal involvement in both univariate and multivariate analyses. The number of positive SLNs and the ratio of positive SLNs to total SLNs is an indication of total tumor burden in the sentinel nodes and may be a reflection of the propensity of the tumor for further lymphatic invasion in the axillary basin.