A sentinel node biopsy is done to see if breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. Most of the lymph nodes in the breast area are located in the armpit. In this biopsy, your doctor removes certain lymph nodes, called sentinel lymph nodes, and has them tested for cancer. The sentinel nodes are the first lymph nodes that the cancer would travel to from the breast. The results show if the cancer could have moved beyond the breast.
A blue dye or a radioactive material called a tracer-or both-will be injected into your breast. This material then flows through the lymph system. This helps the doctor find the correct lymph nodes. Your doctor will then make a small cut (incision), remove the sentinel nodes, and have them tested for cancer. The incision will leave a scar that usually fades with time. The blue dye leaves a blue mark on your breast that will fade in a few weeks.
If your cancer has spread, 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.
A sentinel node biopsy takes about an hour, and you will probably go home the same day. Most women can return to work and their usual routine in 2 to 7 days.
If, during the biopsy, your doctor thinks the cancer has spread, he or she may go ahead and remove more lymph nodes.
A sentinel node biopsy often is done at the same time as other breast surgeries. If this is the case, you will get information about the other procedures 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 call line 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: May 12, 2017
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
& Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Laura S. Dominici, MD - Surgery, General Surgery, Oncology
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