Accurate staging of cancer is important for determining the best course of treatment. Sentinel lymph node biopsy can help determine if the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, which can affect the stage of the cancer and guide treatment decisions. Sentinel lymph node biopsy is a minimally invasive procedure that involves removing only one or a few lymph nodes, compared to traditional lymph node dissection, which involves removing a larger number of nodes. As a result, it has a lower risk of complications such as lymphedema, or swelling of the limbs, and nerve damage. If cancer is detected in the sentinel lymph node, doctors can focus treatment on the affected area, rather than performing more extensive and potentially unnecessary treatment.
During the procedure, a small amount of radioactive material or dye is injected near the tumor site. This material then travels through the lymphatic system to the first lymph node, which is called the sentinel lymph node. The surgeon uses a device that detects the radioactivity or dye to locate the sentinel lymph node.
The surgeon then removes the sentinel lymph node and sends it to a pathologist who will examine it under a microscope to determine if cancer cells are present. If the sentinel lymph node does not contain cancer cells, it is unlikely that the cancer has spread to other lymph nodes or organs.
The procedure is typically done under general anesthesia and can be performed on an outpatient basis. It is a minimally invasive technique that causes minimal scarring and has a low risk of complications. It is commonly used in the treatment of breast cancer and melanoma, but can be used for other types of cancer as well.
Sentinel lymph node biopsies have become an important part of cancer treatment as they help your care team accurately stage cancer, which in turn helps determine the best course of treatment. By identifying cancer in the sentinel lymph node, we can better predict the likelihood of cancer spreading to other areas of the body and can plan appropriate treatments accordingly.
Medical Review: This procedural information has been medically reviewed by plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Brian A. Cripe, M.D.