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Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy

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Learn more about sentinel lymph node biopsy at King Edward VII’s Hospital

If they have spread, the surgeon can determine the stage of the cancer.

Why would I need a sentinel lymph node biopsy?

 A sentinel lymph node biopsy is performed on those who have already received a cancer diagnosis. In most cases it is used for breast cancer and melanoma.

What symptoms does a sentinel lymph node biopsy address?

A sentinel lymph node biopsy does not address any symptoms specifically, but rather is used to determine whether your cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. If it has, your surgeon may advise that you have further lymph nodes removed.

When should you speak to your specialist about a sentinel lymph node biopsy?

If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer or melanoma, you could speak to your specialist about whether you are a suitable candidate for undergoing a sentinel lymph node biopsy.

How is a sentinel lymph node biopsy performed?

A sentinel lymph node biopsy usually takes about 45 minutes; however it will take longer if a lumpectomy (the removal of a lump) is occurring as well. The procedure is performed under general anaesthetic.

You will be injected with a dye and your surgeon will pass a device over you that helps them determine where the sentinel lymph node is located. Once it has been located (it’s also possible that there is more than one) they will remove it through a small incision and it will be checked for cancer.

What is the recovery for a sentinel lymph node biopsy?

Your recovery from a sentinel lymph node biopsy can depend on multiple factors, including your age, fitness level, and the nature of your procedure.

You will likely be able to return home on the same day as the procedure. Your surgeon or nursing team will give you directions on how to best care for your stitches.

Your specialist will advise you of any additional precautions you should take or things you should do after your procedure.

Are there any risks/complications associated with a sentinel lymph node biopsy?

As with any medical procedure, it is possible for risks or complications to arise. It is best that you speak with your specialist about how best to avoid any adverse reactions.

Some complications that have been associated with the procedure are:

  • Pain around the incision site
  • An allergic reaction to the dye that is used
  • An infection
  • Haematoma (blood collecting around the wound)
  • Seroma (fluid collecting around the wound)
  • Scar tissue development
  • Lymphoedema (depending on where the incision was made, there is a small chance you could development swelling in the arms or legs)
  • A false-negative biopsy result

How can I prepare for a sentinel lymph node biopsy?

Prior to a sentinel lymph node biopsy you should discuss the preparations you should make with your surgeon, as there are several that could be suggested and they vary depending on the person.

Are there alternatives for a sentinel lymph node biopsy?

If you have breast cancer, you might be advised to undergo axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) rather than sentinel lymph node biopsy. More lymph nodes are removed in the former, which allows for a greater chance of detecting the spread of cancer, however it is generally found to have more post-surgical complications.

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