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Observational and cost analysis of the implementation of breast cancer sentinel node intraoperative molecular diagnosis
  1. R I Cutress1,
  2. A McDowell2,
  3. F G Gabriel2,
  4. J Gill1,
  5. M J Jeffrey2,
  6. A Agrawal1,
  7. M Wise1,
  8. J Raftery3,
  9. I A Cree2,3,
  10. C Yiangou1
  1. 1Breast Care Centre, Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth, UK
  2. 2Department of Pathology, Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth, UK
  3. 3Wessex Institute, University of Southampton, Chilworth Science Park, Southampton, UK
  1. Correspondence to Ian A Cree, Cancer Laboratory, Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, Pathology Centre, Level F, Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth PO6 3LY, UK; ian.cree{at}


Background Accurate intraoperative sentinel lymph node (SLN) assessment enables axillary clearance to be completed immediately in node-positive breast cancer patients. This article reports a study of the introduction of intraoperative molecular SLN analysis in routine clinical practice in the Portsmouth Breast Care Centre.

Design There was prospective analysis of 254 consecutive patients who underwent SLN biopsy in a single centre. Nodes were sectioned at 2 mm intervals and alternate slices were analysed using a CE-marked assay for mammaglobin (MG) and cytokeratin 19 (CK19). Remaining slices of node were sent for histological analysis, which included CK19 immunohistochemistry. While the assay was being carried out, the surgeon performed the breast tumour resection. The cost per patient was estimated retrospectively and the cost effects on the hospital and primary care trust for a typical service were also estimated.

Results A total of 491 SLNs from 254 patients were evaluated. The intraoperative assay showed positivity of SLNs for metastatic cells in 78 patients. There was 100% detection of macrometastases within sentinel nodes analysed by GeneSearch. Overall concordance between histological status, including micrometastases and GeneSearch analysis, was 95% (sensitivity 96%, specificity 95%). The cost per procedure was increased for wide local excision with SLN biopsy and intraoperative assessment compared with other models, but fewer procedures were carried out.

Conclusion Intraoperative assessment of SLNs in breast cancer using a molecular assay is a safe, acceptable and accurate technique that allows a reduction in the frequency of delayed axillary clearance surgery. Take-up of this method may be hampered by perverse incentives operating within healthcare funding.

  • Breast cancer
  • metastasis
  • sentinel node

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  • The present address for R I Cutress: Southampton Breast Unit, Southampton University Hospitals Trust, Princess Anne Hospital, Southampton, UK.

  • Funding Other Funders: NHS.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.