During breast-conserving surgeries, axillary lymph nodes draining from the primary tumor site are removed for disease staging. Although a high number of lymph nodes are often resected during sentinel and lymph-node dissections, only a relatively small percentage of nodes are found to be metastatic, a fact that must be weighed against potential complications such as lymphedema.Without a real-time in vivo or in situ intraoperative imaging tool to provide a microscopic assessment of the nodes, postoperative paraffin section histopathological analysis currently remains the gold standard in assessing the status of lymph nodes. Optical coherence tomography (OCT), a high-resolution real-time microscopic optical-imaging technique previously used to image breast cancer tumor margins intraoperatively in humans and lymph-node microarchitecture in a rat animal model, is being presented for the intraoperative ex vivo imaging and assessment of axillary lymph nodes. OCT provides real-time microscopic images up to 2 mm beneath the tissue surface in axillary lymph nodes. Normal (13), reactive (1), and metastatic (3) lymph nodes from 17 human patients with breast cancer were imaged intraoperatively with OCT. These preliminary clinical studies have identified scattering changes in the cortex, relative to the capsule, which can be used to differentiate normal from reactive and metastatic nodes. These optical scattering changes are correlated with inflammatory and immunological changes observed in the follicles and germinal centers. These results suggest that intraoperative OCT has the potential to assess the real-time node status in situ, without having to physically resect and histologically process specimens to visualize microscopic features.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5431924
Pages (from-to)63-70
Number of pages8
JournalIEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Magazine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering


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