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To assess the morbidity after sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy compared with SLN and completion level I and II axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) in a prospective multicenter study.ALND after breast cancer surgery is associated with considerable morbidity. We hypothesized: 1) that the morbidity in patients undergoing SLN biopsy only is significantly lower compared with those after SLN and completion ALND level I and II; and 2) that SLN biopsy can be performed with similar intermediate term morbidity in academic and nonacademic centers.Patients with early stage breast cancer (pT1 and pT2 ≤ 3 cm, cN0) were included between January 2000 and December 2003 in this prospective Swiss multicenter study. All patients underwent SLN biopsy. In all patients with SLN macrometastases and most patients with SLN micrometastases (43 of 68) or isolated tumor cells (11 of 19), a completion ALND was performed. Postoperative morbidity was assessed based on a standardized protocol.SLN biopsy alone was performed in 449 patients, whereas 210 patients underwent SLN and completion ALND. The median follow-ups were 31.0 and 29.5 months for the SLN and SLN and completion ALND groups, respectively. Intermediate-term follow-up information was available from 635 of 659 patients (96.4%) of enrolled patients. The following results were found in the SLN versus SLN and completion ALND group: presence of lymphedema (3.5% vs. 19.1%, P < 0.0001), impaired shoulder range of motion (3.5% vs. 11.3%, P < 0.0001), shoulder/arm pain (8.1% vs. 21.1%, P < 0.0001), and numbness (10.9% vs. 37.7%, P < 0.0001). No significant differences regarding postoperative morbidity after SLN biopsy were noticed between academic and nonacademic hospitals (P = 0.921).The morbidity after SLN biopsy alone is not negligible but significantly lower compared with level I and II ALND. SLN biopsy can be performed with similar short- and intermediate-term morbidity in academic and nonacademic centers.