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Meta‐analysis of sentinel node imprint cytology in breast cancer. BJS 2005; 92: 1068-1080.

Published: 17th August 2005

Authors: K. Tew, L. Irwig, A. Matthews, P. Crowe, P. Macaskill


Intraoperative diagnosis of breast cancer metastases in axillary sentinel nodes is desirable to avoid a second operation for lymphadenectomy. Imprint or touch‐preparation cytology is a popular technique that has high specificity and a wide range of sensitivity.


A systematic search of electronic databases was performed. Included articles were assessed for methodological and reporting quality. Random‐effects model pooled estimates of sensitivity and specificity were calculated. Single‐variable and multivariable meta‐regression analyses were performed for predictors of sensitivity.


Thirty‐one studies were included; all were of good methodological quality but reporting quality varied. Pooled sensitivity of imprint cytology was 63 (95 per cent confidence interval (c.i.) 57 to 69) per cent and specificity was 99 (95 per cent c.i. 98 to 99) per cent. Pooled sensitivity for macrometastases was 81 per cent and that for micrometastases 22 per cent. Mean or median primary tumour size (P = 0·004), the prevalence of metastases (P = 0·103) and the proportion of micrometastases (P = 0·022) were significant risk factors in single‐variable meta‐regression analysis. Only the proportion of micrometastases remained significant in multivariable analysis. Frozen sectioning had better sensitivity than imprint cytology in three of four direct comparisons.


Imprint cytology is simple and rapid, and has good sensitivity for macrometastases. The significance of poor sensitivity for micrometastases will be determined by trials investigating their natural history. Copyright © 2005 British Journal of Surgery Society Ltd. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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