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The Quarterly Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging 2014 June;58(2):114-26


lingua: Inglese

Sentinel lymph node mapping in breast cancer: a critical reappraisal of the internal mammary chain issue

Manca G. 1, Volterrani D. 1, Mazzarri S. 1, Duce V. 1, Svirydenka A. 1, Giuliano A. 2, Mariani G. 1

1 Regional Center of Nuclear Medicine, University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy; 2 Surgical Oncology, Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA, USA


Although, like the axilla, the internal mammary nodes (IMNs) are a first-echelon nodal drainage site in breast cancer, the importance of their treatment has long been debated. Seminal randomized trials have failed to demonstrate a survival benefit from surgical IMN dissection, and several retrospective studies have shown that IMNs are rarely the first site of recurrence. However, the recent widespread adoption of sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy has stimulated a critical reappraisal of such early results. Furthermore, the higher proportion of screening-detected cancers, improved imaging and techniques (i.e., lymphoscintigraphy for radioguided SLN biopsy) make it possible to visualize lymphatic drainage to the IMNs. The virtually systematic application of adjuvant systemic and/or loco-regional radiotherapy encourages re-examination of the significance of IMN metastases. Moreover, randomized trials testing the value of postmastectomy irradiation and a meta-analysis of 78 randomized trials have provided high levels of evidence that local-regional tumor control is associated with long-term survival improvements. This benefit was limited to trials that used systemic chemotherapy, which was not routinely administered in the earlier studies. However, the contribution from IMN treatment is unclear. Lymphoscintigraphic studies have shown that a significant proportion of breast cancers have primary drainage to the IMNs, including approximately 30% of medial tumors and 15% of lateral tumors. In the few studies where IMN biopsy was performed, 20% of sentinel IMNs were metastatic. The risk of IMN involvement is higher in patients with medial tumors and positive axillary nodes. IMN metastasis has prognostic significance, as recognized by its inclusion in the American Joint Committee on Cancer staging criteria, and seems to have similar prognostic importance as axillary nodal involvement. Although routine IMN evaluation might be indicated, it has not been routinely performed, perhaps because IMN drainage with lymphoscintigraphy is more difficult to demonstrate than axillary drainage. This difference is due to technical reasons and not the absence of lymphatics to the IMN. Recent anatomical studies have confirmed a model of breast lymphatic drainage that comprises superficial, deep and perforating systems. The superficial system drains to the axilla, usually to a lymph node posterior to the pectoralis minor muscle. The deep system drains to the axilla and also anastomoses with the perforating system which drains to the IMNs. The perforating system does not connect with the superficial system. The prevalence of IMN drainage tends to reflect the method of lymphoscintigraphy, where peritumoral (deep lymphatic system) injections have a much higher likelihood of IMN drainage than subareolar or subdermal (superficial lymphatic system) injections. The fused SPECT/CT images represent a further technical solution to increase the identification of IMNs and consequently can significantly reduce the false negative rate of sentinel lymph node biopsy.
Before mature results from current and future randomized trials assessing the benefit of IMN irradiation become available, lymphoscintigraphy and IMNs biopsy may be used to guide decisions regarding systemic and local-regional treatment. However, even in patients with visualized primary IMN drainage, the potential benefit of treatment should be balanced against the risk of added morbidity.

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