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Brief Report
October 7, 2021

Nodal Recurrence in Patients With Node-Positive Breast Cancer Treated With Sentinel Node Biopsy Alone After Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy—A Rare Event

Author Affiliations
  • 1Breast Service, Department of Surgery, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York
  • 2Biostatistical Service, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York
  • 3Department of Pathology, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York
JAMA Oncol. Published online October 7, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2021.4394
Key Points

Question  What is the nodal recurrence rate in patients with clinically node-positive (cN1) breast cancer treated with sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) alone after neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NAC)?

Findings  In this cohort study of 610 patients with cN1 breast cancer, among 234 consecutive patients whose cancer was rendered cN0 with NAC treated with SLNB alone with 3 or more negative SLNs retrieved, rates of axillary failure at a median follow-up of 40 months were low (0.4%), without routine nodal clipping.

Meaning  These data support potential omission of axillary lymph node dissection in patients with cN1 breast cancer who achieve nodal pathologic complete response with NAC and are treated with SLNB alone.

Abstract

Importance  Prospective trials have demonstrated sentinel lymph node (SLN) false-negative rates of less than 10% when 3 or more SLNs are retrieved in patients with clinically node-positive breast cancer rendered clinically node-negative with neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NAC). However, rates of nodal recurrence in such patients treated with SLN biopsy (SLNB) alone are unknown because axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) was performed in all patients, limiting adoption of this approach.

Objective  To evaluate nodal recurrence rates in a consecutive cohort of patients with clinically node-positive (cN1) breast cancer receiving NAC, followed by a negative SLNB using a standardized technique, and no further axillary surgery.

Design, Setting, and Participants  From November 2013 to February 2019, a cohort of consecutively identified patients with cT1 to cT3 biopsy-proven N1 breast cancer rendered cN0 by NAC underwent SLNB with dual tracer mapping and omission of ALND if 3 or more SLNs were identified and all were pathologically negative. Metastatic nodes were not routinely clipped, and localization of clipped nodes was not performed. The study was performed in a single tertiary cancer center.

Intervention  Omission of ALND in patients with cN1 breast cancer after NAC if 3 or more SLNs were pathologically negative.

Main Outcome and Measures  The primary outcome was the rate of nodal recurrence among patients with cN1 breast cancer treated with SLNB alone after NAC.

Results  Of 610 patients with cN1 breast cancer treated with NAC (median [IQR] age, 49 [40-58] years), 555 (91%) converted to cN0 and underwent SLNB; 234 (42%) had 3 or more negative SLNs and had SLNB alone. Median age was 49 years. Median tumor size was 3 cm; 144 (62%) were ERBB2 (formerly HER2)-positive, and 43 (18%) were triple negative. Most (212 [91%]) received doxorubicin-based NAC, 205 (88%) received adjuvant radiotherapy (RT), and 164 (70%) also received nodal RT. At a median follow-up of 40 months, there was 1 axillary nodal recurrence synchronous with local recurrence in a patient who refused RT. Among patients who received RT (n = 205), there were no nodal recurrences.

Conclusions and Relevance  This cohort study found that in patients with cN1 disease rendered cN0 with NAC, with 3 or more negative SLNs with SLNB alone, nodal recurrence rates were low, without routine nodal clipping. These findings potentially support omitting ALND in such patients.

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