Background: Lymphoscintigraphy has become a routine examination for identifying the sentinel lymph node in various cancer patients. Despite increasing clinical information, the basic anatomy of the superficial lymphatic system of the upper torso has not been fully elucidated.
Methods: Five female breasts, three anterior chest walls, and three forequarter specimens from fresh nine cadavers (two male and seven female) were used for this study. Our original radiographic method for delineating the lymphatics was applied. The course of the lymph vessels was traced from the x-ray films and color coded in accordance with their sentinel lymph node to define the lymph territories of the upper torso. In addition, cross-sectional studies were performed on the female breasts to demonstrate the three-dimensional pathway and connections of the lymphatic vessels.
Results: The lymphatic territories of the upper torso were divided by the midaxillary line. The anterior side drained into the external mammary or axillary vein lymph nodes and the posterior side drained into the scapular nodes. There was no significant difference between sexes. In most cases, one sentinel lymph node in the axilla notably covered a large lymph territory in both the upper arm and the upper torso.
Conclusions: The authors have demonstrated by radiography and dissection the superficial lymphatics of the upper torso in male and female cadavers. The lymph vessels originating in the lower region of the upper torso have close spatial association with the breast tissue and seemed to play a key role in the breast lymph drainage.