Value of routine cytokeratin immunohistochemistry in detecting low volume disease in cervical cancer

I. G.T. Baeten*, J. P. Hoogendam, G. N. Jonges, I. M. Jürgenliemk-Schulz, A. J.A.T. Braat, P. J. van Diest, C. G. Gerestein, R. P. Zweemer

*Corresponding author for this work

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Objective: In cervical cancer, sentinel lymph nodes (SLNs) are processed according to the pathological ultrastaging protocol. According to current guidelines, immunohistochemistry with pancytokeratin antibodies is performed in addition to step sectioning with hematoxylin and eosin (H&E), aiding the detection of low volume disease (micrometastasis and isolated tumor cells (ITC)). We studied the added clinical value, and costs, of routine immunohistochemistry (IHC). Methods: We retrospectively included all FIGO stage IA-IIA1 cervical cancer patients who had undergone SLN procedures at UMC Utrecht from 2008 to 2020. Pathological data were derived from the Dutch Pathology Registry (PALGA) including SLN tumor status and number of slides stained with IHC. Results: In total 234 cervical cancer patients were included. In the 516 surgically resected SLN specimens, 630 SLNs were discovered by the pathologist. Hereof, 579 SLNs from 211 patients were routinely processed with IHC. IHC identified three patients with micrometastasis and five patients with ITC undetected with H&E staining. Thereby, IHC significantly increased the number of patients with low volume disease from 11 (5.3%) to 19 patients (9.1%) (p = 0.04). To achieve this, 3791 slides were stained with IHC at an estimated additional cost of €94,775. In 1.4% (95% CI 0.3%–4.3%) of patients routine use of IHC adjusted the adjuvant treatment. Conclusions: Routine use of IHC increases detection of low volume disease in cervical cancer SLNs compared to step sectioning with H&E alone by nearly 4%, with an impact on therapeutic strategy-decisions in about 1% of patients. In view of the high associated costs, cost-effectiveness of routine IHC is questionable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-263
Number of pages7
JournalGynecologic Oncology
Issue number2
Early online date23 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


  • Cervical cancer
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Low volume disease
  • Sentinel lymph node
  • Ultrastaging


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