Elin R. Sigurdson, MD, PhD
Senior Member, Department of Surgery, Fox Chase Cancer Center
Daniel G. Haller, MD
Professor of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The role of sentinel lymph node identification has been investigated over the
past decade in a variety of malignancies. It has become part of standard care
for melanoma. Its role in breast cancer is evolving, but with the completion of
two large randomized clinical trials, it will probably be added to the surgical
armamentarium for the management of most breast cancers. Studies have been
proposed or are under way to evaluate sentinel node mapping in head and neck
cancer, penile and vulvar cancer, and gastrointestinal cancers.
The advantage of sentinel node mapping in breast cancer and melanoma is
clear. An axillary, inguinal, or cervical lymphadenectomy is associated with
significant morbidity and appears to provide no benefit to the truly
node-negative patient. It is easy to see why sentinel node biopsy will become
the strategy of choice for identifying node-negative patients, if general
surgeons can perform the procedure with acceptable accuracy.
The role of sentinel lymph node detection in other malignancies has yet to be
determined. Currently in North America, many cancer patients present with
involved nodes. For many other tumors, the appropriate lymphadenectomy is not
associated with undue morbidity, so surgical management need not be modified for
node-negative patients. For other patients, either the intraoperative accuracy
is currently insufficient to warrant changing the procedure, or the morbidity of
intracavitary reoperation is too high to allow a delay in identifying the
patient with positive nodes.
Sentinel Node Mapping and Extent of Colon Resection
Appropriate procedures for some colon cancers have been described for more
than a century. These procedures are designed not only to clear the proximal and
distal margins, but more importantly, to encompass the likely lymphatic drainage
of the segment of bowel containing the cancer. As Dr. Lin and coauthors note,
aberrant lymphatic drainage (in a small percentage of patients) can be detected
using lymphatic mapping. This has allowed surgeons to include such nodes in the
resection. If these nodes contain cancer, the patient presumably benefits from
their removal. Should additional nodes be removed when aberrant drainage is
Patients in whom the "highest" node is positive have a poor
prognosis. If an aberrant sentinel node contains cancer, many surgeons would
wish to remove the next echelon of nodes in an effort to remove all tumor.
Currently, we do not know how to locate these nodes. How much bowel must be
sacrificed in an effort to remove such nodes?
1. Fielding LP, Arsenault PA, Chapuis PH, et al: Working report to the world
congresses of gastroenterology, Sydney, 1990. J Gastroenterol Hepatol 6:325-344,
2. Goldstein NS, Weldon S, Coffey M, et al: Lymph node recovery from
colorectal resection specimen removed for adenocarcinoma; Trends over time and a
recommendation for a minimum number of lymph nodes to be removed. Am J Clin
Pathol 106:209-216, 1996.
3. LeVoyer TE, Sigurdson ER, Hanlon AL, et al: Colon cancer survival is
associated with increasing number of lymph nodes removed: A secondary analysis
of INT-0089 (abstract 925). Proc Am Soc Clin Oncol 19:239a, 2000.