The metastatic status of sentinel lymph nodes (SLNs) is the most relevant prognostic factor in breast cancer, melanoma, and other tumors. The conventional standard to label SLNs is lymphoscintigraphy with technetium Tc 99m. A worldwide shortage and known disadvantages of Tc 99m have intensified efforts to establish alternative, nonradioactive imaging techniques.

To assess a new nonradioactive method using multispectral optoacoustic tomographic (MSOT) imaging in comparison with conventional lymphoscintigraphic imaging for SLN biopsy (SLNB) in melanoma.

Design, Setting, and Participants:
Analysis of a cross-sectional study was conducted at the University Hospital-Essen, Skin Cancer Center, Essen, Germany. Between June 2, 2014, and February 22, 2019, 83 patients underwent SLNB with an additional preoperative indocyanine green (ICG) application. Sentinel lymph node basins were preoperatively identified by MSOT imaging, and ICG-labeled SLNs were intraoperatively detected using a near-infrared camera. The surgeons were blinded to the lymphoscintigraphic imaging results in the beginning of the SLNB. Use of a γ probe was restricted until the SLNB procedure was attempted by the nonradioactive method.

Main Outcomes and Measures:
Concordance of SLN basins and SLNs identified by MSOT imaging plus near-infrared camera vs lymphoscintigraphic imaging plus single-photon emission computed tomographic or computed tomographic imaging was assessed.

Of the 83 patients (mean [SD] age, 54.61 [17.53] years), 47 (56.6%) were men. In 83 surgical procedures, 165 SLNs were excised. The concordance rate of ICG-labeled and Tc 99m-marked detected SLN basins was 94.6% (n = 106 of 112). Intraoperatively, 159 SLNs were detected using a near-infrared camera and 165 were detected by a γ probe, resulting in a concordance rate of 96.4%. Multispectral optoacoustic tomographic imaging visualized SLNs in all anatomic regions with high penetration depth (5 cm).

Conclusions and Relevance:
The findings of this study suggest that nonradioactive SLN detection via MSOT imaging allows identification of SLNs at a frequency equivalent to that of the current radiotracer conventional standard. Multispectral optoacoustic tomographic imaging appears to be a viable nonradioactive alternative to detect SLNs in malignant tumors.