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The American Society of Breast Surgeons.
Annals of Surgical Oncology

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Internal Mammary Chain Sentinel Nodes in Early-Stage Breast Cancer Patients: Toward Selective Removal

Ariane A. van Loevezijn MD, Sanne A. L. Bartels PhD, Frederieke H. van Duijnhoven PhD, Wilma D. Heemsbergen PhD, Sophie C. J. Bosma MD, Paula H. M. Elkhuizen PhD, Maarten L. Donswijk MD, Emiel J. Th. Rutgers PhD, Hester S. A. Oldenburg PhD, Marie-Jeanne T. F. D. Vrancken Peeters PhD, Iris M. C. van der Ploeg PhD
Breast Oncology
Volume 26, Issue 4 / April , 2019



Removal of internal mammary chain sentinel nodes (IMCSNs) affects prognosis and treatment of breast cancer, and internal mammary chain radiotherapy (IMCRT) can improve survival for selected patients. This study aimed to determine the effect of IMCSN biopsy on recurrence-free survival (RFS) and overall survival (OS) and to identify predictive factors for IMCSN and distant metastasis.


Patients with IMCSNs were selected from a prospective database for the period 1999–2007. Lymphoscintigraphy was performed after intratumoral technetium-99 m injection, and all sentinel nodes were removed. Both RFS and OS were calculated for subgroups with tumor-positive, tumor-negative, or non-removed IMCSNs. Predictive factors were identified for tumor-positive IMCSNs and distant metastasis by regression analysis.


For 287 (85%) of 336 patients, IMCSN biopsy was performed, and metastasis was detected in 38 patients (13%). The patients with tumor-positive IMCSNs had poorer OS than the patients with no IMCSN metastasis or non-removed IMCSNs (p = 0.002). These patients also had worse RFS due to distant metastasis (p = 0.002). Axillary metastasis was predictive for tumor-positive IMCSNs (positive predictive value, 38.5%). The predictive factors for distant metastasis were tumor-positive IMCSNs (hazard ratio [HR], 2.5), non-removed IMCSNs (HR, 2.3), tumor diameter greater than 1.5 cm (HR, 3.5), and age older than 65 years (HR, 3.1; reference, < 50 years).


Patients with IMCSNs have worse survival due to distant metastasis. The clinically relevant predictive factor for distant metastasis is tumor larger than 1.5 cm. According to the authors’ current protocol, IMCSN biopsy is performed for patients younger than 70 years who have a tumor larger than 1.5 cm, with the cardiotoxicity of the adjuvant IMCRT weighed against the survival benefit.

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