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Implementing sentinel lymph node biopsy programs in developing countries: challenges and opportunities.

BACKGROUND: Sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) is the accepted standard of care in early-stage breast cancer and cutaneous melanoma. This technology is accurate for nodal staging and determining the prognosis of these patients. There are several randomized controlled trials confirming the accuracy of this technique and confirming its role in reducing morbidity and improving quality of life. It is also gaining increased acceptance in the management of other solid tumors. Despite the established benefits of SLNB as a minimally invasive approach for nodal staging, the procedure is still underutilized in many developing countries.

METHODS: The Human Health Division of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) convened advisory meetings with panels of multidisciplinary experts from different backgrounds with the remit to analyze the difficulties encountered by developing countries in establishing a successful SLNB program. The other remit of the panel was to recommend an effective program based on existing evidence that can be adapted and implemented in developing countries. The experience of some members of the panel in the training for this technique in Asia, Latin America, and Africa provided the insight required for the development of a comprehensive and structured program. The panel included recommendations on the technical aspects of the procedure, as well as a comprehensive training program, including theoretical teaching, practical training in surgical skills, laboratories, and hands-on proctored learning. Particular emphasis was placed on in-built quality assurance requirements to ensure that this powerful staging investigation is implemented with the highest possible standard in the management of cancer patients, with the lowest false negative rate.

CONCLUSIONS: It is hoped that this article will be a useful resource for our colleagues planning to establish a SLNB program.

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