Lymphatic mapping and sentinel lymphadenectomy has become an important tool for axillary lymph node staging in women with early-stage breast cancer. This review examines data regarding the staging accuracy, indications and technical aspects of the procedure, and clinical trials investigating the technique. Multiple studies now confirm that sentinel lymphadenectomy accurately stages the axilla and is associated with less morbidity than axillary dissection. Blue dye, radiocolloid, or both can be used to identify the sentinel node, and several injection techniques may be used successfully. Many patient factors previously thought to affect accuracy of the procedure have now been shown to be of limited significance. The indications for the procedure are expanding, and the histopathologic evaluation of the sentinel node and the role of lymphoscintigraphy have been clarified. Clinical trials are now underway that will determine the prognostic significance of micrometastases and the therapeutic benefit of axillary dissection in women with and without sentinel node metastases. Incorporation of sentinel lymphadenectomy into routine clinical practice will maintain accurate axillary staging with lower morbidity and improved quality of life for women with early-stage breast cancer.
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