Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy Treatment Offered in Baltimore

Mercy Breast Center

A sentinel lymph node biopsy is typically performed in addition to breast cancer surgery to determine whether or not tumor cells have spread beyond the breast to the lymph nodes.  Mercy’s breast surgeons use this procedure to stage breast cancer and help determine the treatment options for breast cancer.

What is a Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy?

The sentinel lymph nodes are the first draining lymph nodes from the breast. They are usually located in the armpit (the axilla).

The sentinel lymph node biopsy attempts to find these lymph nodes by injecting a radioactive dye (with or without additional blue dye) into the breast a few hours before surgery. The dye travels through the lymphatic channels of the breast, and concentrates in the first draining lymph nodes – the sentinel lymph nodes.

These lymph nodes (usually 1-4 in number) are removed during surgery, so that they can be examined by the pathologist. This examination may be done at the time of the surgical procedure or later. If there is no tumor in these lymph nodes, no additional lymph nodes need to be removed. However, if tumor cells are detected in these first draining lymph nodes, removal of additional lymph nodes (a complete axillary lymph node dissection) may be required.

NEXT: What are the benefits of Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy? ›
What are the benefits of Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy?

Sentinel lymph node biopsy is used for breast cancer staging, which determines how invasive the cancer is, and therefore is also used to determine what treatment options are likely to be the most effective.

A sentinel lymph node biopsy also may allow for the avoidance of a complete lymph node dissection. In the past, if any lymph node had cancer, a complete lymph node dissection was performed. Any surgery on the lymph nodes can lead to complications including lymphedema, but minimizing surgery on lymph nodes decreases the risk of developing these complications.

NEXT: What is Mercy’s approach to the removal of lymph nodes in breast cancer surgery? ›
What is Mercy’s approach to the removal of lymph nodes in breast cancer surgery?

The doctors of The Hoffberger Breast Center use sentinel lymph node biopsy as a tool to attempt to minimize surgery in the axilla (armpit area). The more lymph nodes that are removed from the axilla, the greater the likelihood of complications. Immediate complications include pain, cording and limitation of arm mobility.

There is also the lifelong risk of lymphedema, which is swelling of the arm, hand, chest or back because of a backup of lymph fluid within it. Mercy's breast surgeons as well as the therapists of Mercy’s Center for Restorative Therapies work closely with patients to treat and minimize the effects of lymphedema.

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