Background: Lymphatic dyes are commonly used to map the drainage path from tumor to lymphatics, which are biopsied to determine if spread has occurred. A blue dye in combination with technetium-99 is considered the gold standard for mapping, although many other dyes and dye combinations are used. Not all of these substances have the same detection efficacy.
Methods: A systematic review of PubMed, SCOPUS, Web of Science, and Medline was performed. The predefined search terms were (indocyanine green OR isosulfan blue OR lymphazurin OR patent blue OR methylene blue OR fluorescein OR technetium-99) AND combination AND dye AND (sentinel lymph node biopsy OR lymphedema OR lymphatics OR lymph OR microsurgery OR cancer OR tumor OR melanoma OR carcinoma OR sarcoma).
Results: The initial search returned 4267 articles. From these studies, 37 were selected as candidates that met inclusion criteria. After a full-text review, 34 studies were selected for inclusion. Eighty-nine methods of sentinel lymph node (SLN) detection were trialed using 22 unique dyes, dye combinations, or other tracers. In total, 12,157 SLNs of 12,801 SLNs were identified. Dye accuracy ranged from 100% to 69.8% detection. Five dye combinations had 100% accuracy. Dye combinations were more accurate than single dyes.
Conclusions: Combining lymphatic dyes improves SLN detection results. Replacing technetium-99 with ICG may allow for increased access to SLN procedures with comparable results. The ideal SLN tracer is a low-cost molecule with a high affinity for lymphatic vessels due to size and chemical composition, visualization without specialized equipment, and no adverse effects.