Sentinel lymph node imaging in urologic oncology
Lymph node (LN) metastases in urological malignancies correlate with poor oncological outcomes. Accurate LN staging is of great importance since patients can benefit from an optimal staging, accordingly aligned therapy and more radical treatments. Current conventional cross-sectional imaging modalities [e.g., computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)] are not accurate enough to reliably detect early LN metastases as they rely on size criteria. Radical lymphadenectomy, the surgical removal of regional LNs, is the gold standard of invasive LN staging. The LN dissection is guided by anatomic considerations of lymphatic drainage pathways of the primary tumor. Selection of patients for lymphadenectomy heavily relies on preoperative risk stratification and nomograms and, as a result a considerable number of patients unnecessarily undergo invasive staging with associated morbidity. On the other hand, due to individual variability in lymphatic drainage, LN metastases can occur outside of standard lymphadenectomy templates leading to potential understaging and undertreatment. In theory, metastases from the primary tumor need to pass through the chain of LNs, where the initial node is defined as the sentinel LN. In theory, identifying and removing this LN could lead to accurate assessment of metastatic status. Radiotracers and more recently fluorescent dyes and superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPION) are injected into the primary tumor or peritumoral and the sentinel LNs are identified intraoperatively by a gamma probe, fluorescent camera or a handheld magnetometer. Preoperative imaging [e.g., single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT)/CT or MRI] after tracer injection can further improve preoperative planning of LN dissection. While sentinel LN biopsy is an accepted and widely used approach in melanoma and breast cancer staging, its use in urological malignancies is still limited. Most data published so far is in penile cancer staging since this cancer has a typical echelon-based lymphatic metastasizing pattern. More recent data is encouraging with low false-negative rates, but its use is limited to centers with high expertise. Current guidelines recommend sentinel LN biopsy as an accepted alternative to modified inguinal lymphadenectomy in patients with pT1G2 disease and non-palpable inguinal LNs. In prostate cancer, a high diagnostic accuracy could be demonstrated for the sentinel approach. Nevertheless, due to lack of data or high false-negative rates in other urological malignancies, sentinel LN biopsy is still considered experimental in other urological malignancies. More high-level evidence and longitudinal data is needed to determine its final value in those malignancies. In this manuscript, we will review sentinel node imaging for urologic malignancies.