Frozen section analysis of sentinel lymph nodes in patients with breast cancer does not impair the probability to detect lymph node metastases
Intra-operative frozen section analysis (FS analysis) of sentinel lymph nodes (SLNs) in patients with breast cancer can prevent a second operation for axillary lymph node dissection. In contrast, loss of tissue during FS analysis may impair the probability to detect lymph node metastases. To determine the effect of tissue loss on the probability of detection of metastases, dimensions and tissue loss resulting from intra-operative frozen section analysis were measured for 21 SLNs. In a mathematical model, the influence of tissue loss on the probability to detect metastases was calculated in relation to SLN size for various pathology protocols: an American, a widely used European, the extensive 'Milan' and the Dutch protocol. For median-sized SLN 11×8×5 mm (length×width× height), FS analysis led to a median loss of 680 μm (13.6%) of the height of the SLN. Irrespective of SLN size or used pathology protocol, the probability of detecting 2 mm metastases remained unchanged or even increased (0-12.8%). Moreover, the probability to detect 0.2 mm metastases increased for the majority of tested combinations of SLN size, tissue loss and used protocol. Only when combining maximum tissue loss and smallest SLN size in the Dutch protocol, or when applying the extensive Milan protocol on a median-sized SLN, the probability to detect 0.2 mm metastases decreased by 2.7% and 14.3%, respectively. Contrary to 'common knowledge', doing FS analysis of SLNs does not impair the probability to detect lymph node metastases.