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Open Access Research article

Could lymphatic mapping and sentinel node biopsy provide oncological providence for local resectional techniques for colon cancer? A review of the literature

Ronan A Cahill*, Joel Leroy and Jacques Marescaux

Author Affiliations

Department of Surgery, IRCAD/EITS, Strasbourg, France

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BMC Surgery 2008, 8:17  doi:10.1186/1471-2482-8-17

Published: 24 September 2008



Endoscopic resectional techniques for colon cancer are undermined by their inability to determine lymph node status. This limits their application to only those lesions at the most minimal risk of lymphatic dissemination whereas their technical capacity could allow intraluminal or even transluminal address of larger lesions. Sentinel node biopsy may theoretically address this breach although the variability of its reported results for this disease is worrisome.


Medline, EMBASE and Cochrane databases were interrogated back to 1999 to identify all publications concerning lymphatic mapping for colon cancer with reference cross-checking for completeness. All reports were examined from the perspective of in vivo technique accuracy selectively in early stage disease (i.e. lesions potentially within the technical capacity of endoscopic resection).


Fifty-two studies detailing the experiences of 3390 patients were identified. Considerable variation in patient characteristics as well as in surgical and histological quality assurances were however evident among the studies identified. In addition, considerable contamination of the studies by inclusion of rectal cancer without subgroup separation was frequent. Indeed such is the heterogeneity of the publications to date, formal meta-analysis to pool patient cohorts in order to definitively ascertain technique accuracy in those with T1 and/or T2 cancer is not possible. Although lymphatic mapping in early stage neoplasia alone has rarely been specifically studied, those studies that included examination of false negative rates identified high T3/4 patient proportions and larger tumor size as being important confounders. Under selected circumstances however the technique seems to perform sufficiently reliably to allow it prompt consideration of its use to tailor operative extent.


The specific question of whether sentinel node biopsy can augment the oncological propriety for endoscopic resective techniques (including Natural Orifice Transluminal Endoscopic Surgery [NOTES]) cannot be definitively answered at present. Study heterogeneity may account for the variability evident in the results from different centers. Enhanced capacity (perhaps to the level necessary to consider selective avoidance of en bloc mesenteric resection) by its confinement to only early stage disease is plausible although not proven. Specific study of the technique in early stage tumors is clearly essential before proffering this approach.