Sentinel Node Biopsy for Vulvar/Cervical Cancer Periprocedural Care

Updated: Jan 24, 2019
  • Author: Sara S Lange, MD; Chief Editor: Warner K Huh, MD  more...
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Periprocedural Care

Patient Education & Consent

Patient Instructions

Perioperative instructions to the patient vary by provider, institution, and specific procedure performed.

Elements of Informed Consent

The patient should be informed of the risks and benefits of sentinel node dissection compared to routine inguinofemoral lymphadenectomy. Sentinel node biopsy confers minimal short-term complications and a low risk of lymphedema compared to complete inguinal node dissection. The primary risk of sentinel node biopsy is in not performing a complete inguinofemoral lymphadenectomy based on false-negative sentinel node biopsy result. Presently, the preferred surgical method to evaluate the lymph nodes seems to be transition from complete lymphadenectomy to sentinel node dissection. [12]


Pre-Procedure Planning

Surgeons may consider some form of preoperative imaging to rule out grossly involved lymph nodes, the presence of which negates the effectiveness of sentinel node biopsy.

The expert panel statement from the International Sentinel Node Society Meeting in 2008 recommended that sentinel node biopsy procedures for vulvar cancer be performed by a skilled multidisciplinary team. A gynecologic oncologist trained in the procedure, a nuclear medicine specialist, and surgical pathologist familiar with the concept of ultrastaging should be recruited in order to provide the highest likelihood of successful sentinel node dissection.

The expert panel statement recommends that each oncologist perform at least 10 consecutive cases with successful sentinel node identification and no false-negative results with at least 5-10 patients/year before performing the procedure without lymphadenectomy. [12, 13] Oncologists with limited annual exposure to patients with vulvar cancer should consider referral to physicians who care for a high volume of patients who are candidates for sentinel node biopsy. [12]


Although the specific technique may vary slightly by provider, the injection of isosulfan blue dye or radiotracer is necessary. Preoperative lymphoscintigraphy and/or an intraoperative gamma probe will be required to identify the sentinel lymph node(s).


Patient Preparation


Although it is always at the discretion of the anesthesiologist, general endotracheal anesthesia is generally the most appropriate anesthesia for this procedure, given the duration and possible need for complete lymphadenectomy.


For both cervical and vulvar sentinel lymph node dissection, dorsal lithotomy is the most appropriate positioning to allow for perineal, inguinal, and abdominal access.


Monitoring & Follow-up

Patients with invasive cervical and vulvar cancers who undergo sentinel lymph node dissection should be monitored closely by a gynecologic oncologist. Most vulvar cancers that recur do so in the first year, but up to 10% of cases recur beyond 5 years after diagnosis, necessitating long-term follow up. [5]

The optimal surveillance strategy has not been established, and clinical practice varies. The Society of Gynecologic Oncologists (SGO) advises follow-up every 6 months for 2 years, then annually for low-risk disease (early stage, treated with surgery alone, no adjuvant therapy). For high-risk disease (advanced stage, treated with primary chemotherapy/radiation or surgery plus adjuvant therapy), follow-up is scheduled every 3 months for the first 2 years, then every 6 months for the subsequent 3 years, then annually. There is no current recommendation for routine use of imaging or cervical/vaginal cytology. [27]

Surveillance for invasive cervical cancer after primary curative therapy is uniformly recommended and is based on the premise that early detection of recurrence may lead to treatments that have lower morbidity and increase survival. SGO guidelines recommend follow-up every 3 months for the first 2 years, every 6 months for the subsequent 3 years, then annually for high-risk disease (advanced stage, treated with primary chemotherapy/radiation or surgery plus adjuvant therapy). For low-risk disease (early stage, treated with surgery alone, no adjuvant therapy), the guidelines recommend follow-up every 6 months for the first 2 years, then annually. They also recommend annual cytology but do not recommend routine imaging as part of surveillance at this time. [27]