Axillary Lymph Node Tattooing and Targeted Axillary Dissection in Breast Cancer Patients Who Presented as cN+ Before Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy and Became cN0 After Treatment

Published:February 06, 2019DOI:



      Targeted axillary dissection (TAD) is an alternative to axillary dissection for breast cancer patients who presented as cN+ before neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NAC) and became cN0 after treatment. TAD is defined as the removal of sentinel lymph nodes (SLNs) along with the pre-NAC marked positive nodes. Tattooing is an option to mark positive nodes. In this study we aimed to investigate the identification rate of tattooed nodes during surgery, correspondence between tattooed nodes and SLNs, and difficulties and pitfalls of the method.

      Patients and Methods

      In 75 patients who were cN+, with axillary lymph nodes known to have or suspected to have disease were tattooed pre-NAC with a sterile carbon suspension (Spot). After NAC completion all patients became cN0 and underwent TAD as an axillary staging procedure.


      SLNs were identified successfully in 70 of 75 patients (93.3%). All tattooed nodes were identified successfully intraoperatively in 71 of 75 patients (94.6%). Retrieval of all tattooed nodes in surgical specimens was achieved in 74 patients (98.6%). Correspondence between tattooed nodes and SLNs was observed in 53 of 70 patients (75.3%). In 34 patients (45.3%) the number of pigmented nodes in pathological examination was greater than the number of initially tattooed nodes, indicating the possibility of tattoo ink migration.


      Tattoo of axillary lymph nodes is a feasible, accurate, and low-cost method of positive node marking pre-NAC. Pathological confirmation of black pigment in the lymph nodes excised is not by itself warranty of retrieval of all marked node because of tattoo ink migration from one node to another. Intraoperative identification using visual inspection is essential.


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