Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy

If there is reason to believe that the cancer may have progressed beyond the breast tissue, your doctor may recommend a sentinel lymph node biopsy. This diagnostic procedure helps doctors determine whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes without having to remove a large number of nodes. It also helps determine the stage of the cancer.

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Blue dye and a harmless radioactive tracer are injected near the breast tumor and travel to the lymph nodes. The first nodes that take up the dye and tracer are called the sentinel nodes, and the surgeon removes these for biopsy. If there is no cancer in the sentinel nodes, the other lymph nodes are likely to be cancer-free as well. Sentinel node biopsy is also used in the staging of melanoma.

A sentinel node biopsy not only limits the number of nodes the surgeon may have to remove, but it also reduces the chance of developing lymphedema, a potentially serious condition in which excess lymph fluid collects in tissue and causes swelling.

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