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Axillary staging for breast cancer during pregnancy: feasibility and safety of sentinel lymph node biopsy



Safety of sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy for breast cancer during pregnancy is insufficiently explored. We investigated efficacy and local recurrence rate in a large series of pregnant patients.

Patients and methods

Women diagnosed with breast cancer who underwent SLN biopsy during pregnancy were identified from the International Network on Cancer, Infertility and Pregnancy, the German Breast Group, and the Cancer and Pregnancy Registry. Chart review was performed to record technique and outcome of SLN biopsy, locoregional and distant recurrence, and survival.


We identified 145 women with clinically N0 disease who underwent SLN during pregnancy. The SLN detection techniques were as follows: 99mTc-labeled albumin nanocolloid only (n = 96; 66.2%), blue dye only (n = 14; 9.7%), combined technique (n = 15; 10.3%), or unknown (n = 20; 13.8%). Mapping was unsuccessful in one patient (0.7%) and she underwent an axillary lymph node dissection (ALND). Mean number of SLNs was 3.2 (interquartile range 1-3; missing n = 15). Positive SLNs were found in 43 (29.7%) patients and 34 subsequently underwent ALND. After a median follow-up of 48 months (range 1–177), 123 (84.8%) patients were alive and free of disease. Eleven patients experienced a locoregional relapse, including 1 isolated ipsilateral axillary recurrence (0.7%). Eleven (7.6%) patients developed distant metastases, of whom 9 (6.2%) died of breast cancer. No neonatal adverse events related to SLN procedure during pregnancy were reported.


SLN biopsy during pregnancy has a comparably low axillary recurrence rate as in nonpregnant women. Therefore, this method can be considered during pregnancy instead of standard ALND for early-stage, clinically node-negative breast cancer.

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This study was supported by Research Foundation-Flanders (Project G0358.06), Stichting tegen Kanker, and Belgian Cancer Plan (Ministry of Health).

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Correspondence to F. Amant.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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S.N. Han and F. Amant contributed equally to this work.

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Han, S.N., Amant, F., Cardonick, E.H. et al. Axillary staging for breast cancer during pregnancy: feasibility and safety of sentinel lymph node biopsy. Breast Cancer Res Treat 168, 551–557 (2018).

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  • Breast cancer
  • Pregnancy
  • Sentinel lymph node
  • Lymphoscintigraphy