Maximisation of the potential of sentinel lymph node biopsy as a minimally invasive method of axillary staging requires sensitive intraoperative pathological analysis so that rates of re-operation for lymphatic metastases are minimised. The aim of this study was to describe the test parameters of the frozen section evaluation of sentinel node biopsy for breast cancer compared to the gold standard of standard permanent pathological evaluation at our institution.
The accuracy of intraoperative frozen section (FS) of sentinel nodes was determined in 94 consecutive women undergoing surgery for clinically node negative, invasive breast cancer (37:T1 disease; 43:T2; 14:T3). Definitive evidence of lymphatic spread on FS indicated immediate level II axillary clearance while sentinel node "negativity" on intraoperative testing led to the operation being curtailed to allow formal H&E analysis of the remaining sentinel nodal tissue.
Intraoperative FS correctly predicted axillary involvement in 23/30 patients with lymphatic metastases (76% sensitivity rate) permitting definitive surgery to be completed at the index operation in 87 women (93%) overall. All SN found involved on FS were confirmed as harbouring tumour cells on subsequent formal specimen examination (100% specificity and positive predictive value) with 16 patients having additional non-sentinel nodes found also to contain tumour. Negative Predictive Values were highest in women with T1 tumours (97%) and lessened with more local advancement of disease (T2 rates: 86%; T3: 75%). Of those with falsely negative FS, three had only micrometastatic disease.
Intraoperative FS reliably evaluates the status of the sentinel node allowing most women complete their surgery in a single stage. Thus SN can be offered with increased confidence to those less likely to have negative axillae hence expanding the population of potential beneficiaries.