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Contraindications of sentinel lymph node biopsy: Áre there any really?

George M Filippakis1* and George Zografos2

Author Affiliations

1 General Surgery Unit, Breast and Endocrine Department, St.Mary's Hospital, NHS Trust London W2 1NY, UK

2 A' Propaedeutic Surgical Department, Hippokration General Hospital, Athens, Greece

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World Journal of Surgical Oncology 2007, 5:10  doi:10.1186/1477-7819-5-10

Published: 29 January 2007



One of the most exciting and talked about new surgical techniques in breast cancer surgery is the sentinel lymph node biopsy. It is an alternative procedure to standard axillary lymph node dissection, which makes possible less invasive surgery and side effects for patients with early breast cancer that wouldn't benefit further from axillary lymph node clearance. Sentinel lymph node biopsy helps to accurately evaluate the status of the axilla and the extent of disease, but also determines appropriate adjuvant treatment and long-term follow-up. However, like all surgical procedures, the sentinel lymph node biopsy is not appropriate for each and every patient.


In this article we review the absolute and relative contraindications of the procedure in respect to clinically positive axilla, neoadjuvant therapy, tumor size, multicentric and multifocal disease, in situ carcinoma, pregnancy, age, body-mass index, allergies to dye and/or radio colloid and prior breast and/or axillary surgery.


Certain conditions involving host factors and tumor biologic characteristics may have a negative impact on the success rate and accuracy of the procedure. The overall fraction of patients unsuitable or with multiple risk factors that may compromise the success of the sentinel lymph node biopsy, is very small. Nevertheless, these patients need to be successfully identified, appropriately advised and cautioned, and so do the surgeons that perform the procedure.


When performed by an experienced multi-disciplinary team, the SLNB is a highly effective and accurate alternative to standard level I and II axillary clearance in the vast majority of patients with early breast cancer.