Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy

A sentinel lymph node biopsy takes out lymph node tissue to examine it for cancer. This surgery is typically used to check for metastases (cancer spread) for a known breast cancer or melanoma. Sentinel lymph node biopsy is done in place of the more invasive lymph node dissection.

A sentinel lymph node is the first lymph node of a group of nodes to contain cancer cells from an original cancer site (the sentinel node for breast cancer is typically one of the under-arm lymph nodes). The sentinel lymph node is determined by following the pathway of a special dye or tracer that is injected in and around the original cancer site. This sentinel lymph node is then removed and tested for cancer cells. If this first lymph node is unaffected, it is likely the nodes beyond it in the lymphatic pathway are unaffected as well. However, if cancer is determined to be present in the sentinel lymph node, your surgeon must remove additional lymph nodes.

A sentinel lymph node biopsy is done to eliminate unnecessary removal of lymph nodes in breast cancer or melanoma cases that have not spread beyond the original cancer site. This can minimize patient discomfort and the risk of lymphedema (swelling).