Background: Although the false-negative rate of the sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) in breast cancer patients is 5–7%, reported regional recurrence (RR) rates after negative SLNB are much lower. Adjuvant treatment modalities probably contribute to this discrepancy. This study assessed the 5-year RR risk after a negative SLNB in the subset of patients who underwent breast amputation without radiotherapy or any adjuvant treatment.
Methods: All patients operated for primary unilateral invasive breast cancer between 2005 and 2008 were identified in the Netherlands Cancer Registry. Patients with a negative SLNB who underwent breast amputation and who were not treated with axillary lymph node dissection, radiotherapy, or any adjuvant systemic treatment were selected. The cumulative 5-year RR rate was estimated by Kaplan–Meier analysis.
Results: A total of 13,452 patients were surgically treated for primary breast cancer and had a negative SLNB, and 2012 patients fulfilled the selection criteria. Thirty-eight RRs occurred during follow-up. Multifocal disease was associated with a higher risk of developing RR (P = 0.04). The median time to RR was 27 months and was significantly shorter in patients with estrogen receptor-negative (ER−) breast cancer (9.5 months; P = 0.003). The 5-year RR rate was 2.4% in the study population compared with 1.1% in the remainder of 11,440 SLNB-negative patients (P = 0.0002).
Conclusions: Excluding the effect of radiotherapy and systemic treatment resulted in a twofold 5-year RR risk in breast cancer patients with a tumor-free SLNB. This 5-year RR rate was still much lower than the reported false-negative rate of the SLNB procedure.