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A sentinel node biopsy is a type of procedure. It checks to see if breast cancer has spread to certain lymph nodes in your armpit. These are called sentinel lymph nodes.
First the doctor injects a blue dye or a radioactive material into your breast. You may get both. These flow through the lymph system to help the doctor find the correct lymph nodes. Then the doctor makes a small cut to remove your sentinel lymph nodes. Sometimes the doctor removes other lymph nodes too, if it looks like the cancer has spread. The cut is called an incision. It leaves a scar that usually fades with time. The dye leaves a blue mark on your breast. It will fade in a few weeks.
If the test shows that your cancer has spread to your lymph nodes, you and your doctor will discuss what you can do. Your doctor may remove more lymph nodes. Or you may decide to use chemotherapy or radiation.
You will probably go home the same day. Most people can go back to work and their usual routine in 2 to 7 days.
This type of biopsy often is done at the same time as other breast surgeries. If this is the case, you will get information about those too.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
Procedures can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for your procedure.
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Current as of: September 8, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Laura S. Dominici MD - General Surgery, Breast Surgical Oncology
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