Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy

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Definition

A sentinel lymph node biopsy is the removal and testing of specific lymph node tissue called sentinel nodes. The sentinel nodes are the lymph nodes to which cancer would spread first.
Lymph Node Biopsy
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Reasons for Procedure

This biopsy is done to determine if cancer cells have spread from the tumor to nearby lymph nodes. Cancer often spreads from the tumor to the nearest lymph node or nodes. These lymph nodes are called the sentinel nodes. It is important to understand that the sentinel node will probably be the first one to get cancer if the cancer has spread. For example, the sentinel nodes in breast cancer are often found in the armpit.This biopsy is often done during cancer-removal surgery or prior to surgery. Sentinel node biopsy is part of the staging process. Staging is an attempt to determine how much the cancer has spread away from the original tumor. The cancerous tissue may have been biopsied already.

Possible Complications

Complications are rare. But no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have this biopsy, your doctor will review a list of possible complications. These may include:
  • Infection
  • Bleeding or bruising
  • Scarring
  • Nerve damage and chronic pain
  • Allergy to dye
If the lymph nodes are removed, there is an increased risk of the following:
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Additional pain
  • Lymphedema —a condition in which fluids collect under the skin causing swelling
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
  • Obesity
  • Recent or long-term illness
  • Smoking
  • Poor nutrition
  • Use of certain medications
  • Bleeding disorders

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