Sentinel Node Biopsy Examination for Breast Cancer in a Routine Laboratory Practice: Results of a Pilot Study


Pathology, Clinical School Johor Bahru, Monash University Malaysia, Johor Bahru, Malaysia


Background: Examination of sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsies provides accurate nodal staging for breast cancer and plays a key role in patient management. Procurement of SLNs and the methods used to process specimens are equally important. Increasing the level of detail in histopathological examination of SLNs increases detection of metastatic tumours but will also increase the burden of busy laboratories and thus may not be carried out routinely. Recommendation of a reasonable standard in SLN examination is required to ensure high sensitivity of results while maintaining a manageable practice workload. Materials and Methods: Twenty-four patients with clinically node-negative breast cancer were recruited. Combined radiotracer and blue dye methods were used for identification of SLNs. The nodes were thinly sliced and embedded. Serial sectioning and immunohistochemical (IHC) staining against AE1/AE3 were performed if initial HandE sections of the blocks were negative. Results: SLNs were successfully identified in all patients. Ten cases had nodal metastases with 7 detected in SLNs and 3 detected only in axillary nodes (false negative rate, FNR=30%). Some 5 out of 7 metastatic lesions in the SLNs (71.4%) were detected in initial sections of the thinly sliced tissue. Serial sectioning detected the remaining two cases with either micrometastases or isolated tumour cells (ITC). Conclusions: Thin slicing of tissue to 3-5mm thickness and serial sectioning improved the detection of micro and macro-metastases but the additional burden of serial sectioning gave low yield of micrometastases or ITC and may not be cost effective. IHC validation did not further increase sensitivity of detection. Therefore its use should only be limited to confirmation of suspicious lesions. False negative cases where SLNs were not involved could be due to skipped metastases to non-sentinel nodes or poor technique during procurement, resulting in missed detection of actual SLNs.