Background: Vulval cancer is usually treated by wide local excision with removal of groin lymph nodes (inguinofemoral lymphadenectomy) from one or both sides, depending on the tumour location. However, this procedure is associated with significant morbidity. As lymph node metastasis occurs in about 30% of women with early vulval cancer, accurate prediction of lymph node metastases could reduce the extent of surgery in many women, thereby reducing morbidity. Sentinel node assessment is a diagnostic technique that uses traceable agents to identify the spread of cancer cells to the lymph nodes draining affected tissue. Once the sentinel nodes are identified, they are removed and submitted to histological examination. This technique has been found to be useful in diagnosing the nodal involvement of other types of tumours. Sentinel node assessment in vulval cancer has been evaluated with various tracing agents. It is unclear which tracing agent or combination of agents is most accurate.
Objectives: To assess the diagnostic test accuracy of various techniques using traceable agents for sentinel lymph node assessment to diagnose groin lymph node metastasis in women with FIGO stage IB or higher vulval cancer and to investigate sources of heterogeneity.
Search methods: We searched MEDLINE (1946 to February 2013), EMBASE (1974 to March 2013) and the relevant Cochrane trial registers.
Selection criteria: Studies that evaluated the diagnostic accuracy of traceable agents for sentinel node assessment (involving the identification of a sentinel node plus histological examination) compared with histological examination of removed groin lymph nodes following complete inguinofemoral lymphadenectomy (IFL) in women with vulval cancer, provided there were sufficient data for the construction of two‐by‐two tables.
Data collection and analysis: Two authors (TAL, AP) independently screened titles and abstracts for relevance, classified studies for inclusion/exclusion and extracted data. We assessed the methodological quality of studies using the QUADAS‐2 tool. We used univariate meta‐analytical methods to estimate pooled sensitivity estimates.
Main results: We included 34 studies evaluating 1614 women and approximately 2396 groins. The overall methodological quality of included studies was moderate. The studies included in this review used the following traceable techniques to identify sentinel nodes in their participants: blue dye only (three studies), technetium only (eight studies), blue dye plus technetium combined (combined tests; 13 studies) and various inconsistent combinations of these three techniques (mixed tests; 10 studies). For studies of mixed tests, we obtained separate test data where possible.
Most studies used haematoxylin and eosin (H&E) stains for the histological examination. Additionally an immunohistochemical (IHC) stain with and without ultrastaging was employed by 14 and eight studies, respectively. One study used reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction analysis (CA9 RT‐PCR), whilst three studies did not describe the histological methods used.
The pooled sensitivity estimate for studies using blue dye only was 0.94 (68 women; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.69 to 0.99), for mixed tests was 0.91 (679 women; 95% CI 0.71 to 0.98), for technetium only was 0.93 (149 women; 95% CI 0.89 to 0.96) and for combined tests was 0.95 (390 women; 95% CI 0.89 to 0.97). Negative predictive values (NPVs) for all index tests were > 95%. Most studies also reported sentinel node detection rates (the ability of the test to identify a sentinel node) of the index test. The mean detection rate for blue dye alone was 82%, compared with 95%, 96% and 98% for mixed tests, technetium only and combined tests, respectively. We estimated the clinical consequences of the various tests for 100 women undergoing the sentinel node procedure, assuming the prevalence of groin metastases to be 30%. For the combined or technetium only tests, one and two women with groin metastases might be ‘missed’, respectively (95% CI 1 to 3); and for mixed tests, three women with groin metastases might be ‘missed’ (95% CI 1 to 9). The wide CIs associated with the pooled sensitivity estimates for blue dye and mixed tests increased the potential for these tests to ‘miss’ women with groin metastases.
Authors’ conclusions: There is little difference in diagnostic test accuracy between the technetium and combined tests. The combined test may reduce the number of women with ‘missed’ groin node metastases compared with technetium only. Blue dye alone may be associated with more ‘missed’ cases compared with tests using technetium. Sentinel node assessment with technetium‐based tests will reduce the need for IFL by 70% in women with early vulval cancer. It is not yet clear how the survival of women with negative sentinel nodes compares to those undergoing standard surgery (IFL). A randomised controlled trial of sentinel node dissection and IFL has methodological and ethical issues, therefore more observational data on the survival of women with early vulval cancer are needed.