OSF Medical Group

Sentinel Node Biopsy

With the ability to biopsy the sentinel nodes for the spread of cancers, specially trained surgeons are able to prevent many patients from having extensive surgery.

Traditionally, the lymph nodes under the arm closest to the cancerous breast were removed to examine them for the spread of cancer. However, research shows only one-third of women with breast cancer will have cancer in the lymph nodes. 

Their removal causes side effects, like painful swelling in the arm (lymphedema), which often results in infection and interferes with activities of daily living. 

Sentinel node biopsy lowers a woman's chance of developing lymphedema by as much as half, in comparison with the traditional approach of removing many of the nodes.

What is a Sentinel Node Biopsy?

A Sentinel lymph node biopsy is a surgery that takes out lymph node tissue to look for cancer. 

Research has proven the sentinel lymph node is the first node in a group of nodes in the body where cancer cells move to after they have left the original cancer site. 

The sentinel node is one of the lymph nodes under the arm. If the sentinel node is free of cancer, then others further from the site can be presumed cancer free and be left alone.

How is the Procedure Done?

Since the procedure is performed under general anesthesia, you will be given instructions by your surgeon and the anesthesiologist prior to the day of your biopsy. 

Your radiologist will inject a tracer substance, and your surgeon will inject a blue dye into the tumor site. 

The dye or tracer will move to the first lymph node (sentinel node) that drains close to the cancer site. The dye makes a map pattern of lymphatic fluid, showing where the cancer is likely to spread and which nodes are likely to have cancer cells.

The surgeon will use a special instrument to detect the tracer.

A small incision will be made to remove the node, which will be sent to the pathologist to be examined for cancer cells.