Objectives: To analyze a series of sentinel nodes (SNs) from patients with node-positive breast cancer to determine their diagnostic value, to delineate a working algorithm, and to assess the clinical value of our common practice Design: A prospectively collected database. Setting: Tertiary referral center. Patients: One hundred five patients with nodepositive breast cancer who underwent SN biopsy. Main Outcome Measures: The diagnostic value of SNs by analyzing the sensitivity of processing the hottest, 2 hottest, hot and blue, or hot, blue, and suspicious SNs. Results: Three hundred fifty-three axillary SNs were recorded in the database. An analysis of the 282 radioactive axillary nodes for which the 10-second count was recorded reveals that the most radioactive node was positive in 73 of 94 analyzable patients (77.7%). Consideration of the 2 most intense axillary nodes was sufficient to diagnose nodal disease in an additional 12 patients, representing a significant increase in sensitivity to 90.4% (P<.001). Examination of all other radioactive nodes did not diagnose any additional cases. On the basis of all 105 patients, consideration of nonradioactive blue axillary nodes did not add significant diagnostic value relative to testing only radioactive nodes: Sensitivity of 86.7% vs88.6% (P=.50), whereas consideration of all hot, blue, and suspicious nodes improved sensitivity to 96.2% (P=.002). Conclusions: Processing of the 2 hottest nodes, along with suspicious but nonhot and nonblue nodes, is sufficient for initial axillary staging. Additional radioactive SNs should be processed only in the presence of nodal disease.
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