Quality indicators for sentinel lymph node biopsy: Is there room for improvement?

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Eleven quality indicators (QIs) for sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) were previously developed through a consensus-based approach, yet still need to be incorporated into clinical practice. We sought to evaluate the applicability and clinical relevance for surgeons.


Breast cancer patients undergoing SLNB between 2004 and 2008 at Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto, were evaluated. Clinical and pathological data were obtained from an institutional database. Information on axillary recurrences was obtained through a retrospective chart review. Adherence to standardized protocols was evaluated in each case.


All 11 QIs were measurable in 300 patients. The identification rate was 100%. More than 1 SLN was identified in 78.6% of patients. The SLNB was performed simultaneously with primary surgery in 96.7% of patients; 61 SLNs harboured metastasis. Of these patients, 80.3% underwent completion lymphadenectomy. Cases complied with protocols for radiocolloid injection and pathologic SLN evaluation/reporting. No ineligible patients underwent SLNB. Of patients with a complete 5-year follow-up (n = 42), only 1 had axillary recurrence.


Applying QIs for SLNB was feasible, but modifications were necessary to develop a more practical approach to quality assessment. Of the 11 suggested QIs, those that encompass protocols (nuclear medicine and pathology) should be reclassified as prerequisites, as they are independent of the technical aspect of SLNB performance. The remaining 8 QIs encompass surgery per se and should be measured routinely by surgeons. Furthermore, concise and clinically relevant target rates are necessary for these QIs to be established as widely recognized control standards.

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