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Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy

UPMC Content 2

Your lymphatic system — the system responsible for carrying the white blood cells that fight infection — is a major route by which cancer cells can spread throughout your body.

If cancer cells break through the duct or lobe and enter the surrounding breast tissue, these cells have the potential to travel to the lymph nodes under the arm.

Women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer undergo a sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy — a minimally invasive procedure to remove the main (sentinel) lymph node to test for cancer.

What Can I Expect During a Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy?

During the SLN biopsy, your surgeon:

  1. Injects dye near the tumor to identify the SLN (the main lymph node where the cancer is likely to have spread first).
  2. Makes a small incision and removes the SLN for biopsy.
  3. Sends your SLN biopsy sample to a pathologist who examines it to determine if cancer is present.
If cancer cells are... Then you...
Not detected in the SLN, Will not need further surgery on the lymph nodes.
Detected in the SLN, May need a full axillary lymph node dissection. In some cases, removal of additional lymph nodes may not be necessary.