What is a sentinel lymph node biopsy and is it right for me?
In some cases, a radioactive dye will be injected into the tumor site during surgery. After a few minutes, the surgeon can track how the dye reaches through the lymph nodes. The first, or sentinel, node that the dye reaches is then the only one removed. The theory is that if cancer cells are migrating to the body from the breast, they would also travel to this node first. While the patient is still under anesthesia, a pathologist analyzes the sentinel node. If it is free of cancer, the surgeon might remove one or two more nodes surrounding that sentinel node just to be sure, but can conclude with 95% accuracy that the others are negative. The woman then keeps most of her lymph nodes intact and is spared the lymphedema and cellulitis risks of axillary node dissection.
If, however, the sentinel node contains cancer cells, the surgeon will continue with an axillary node dissection to determine the extent of the cancer spread.