Cancer Treatment Centers of America

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Sentinel lymph node biopsy

We use sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy to diagnose and stage cancer. This procedure helps us determine whether cancer has metastasized (spread) to the axillary lymph nodes (lymph glands under the arm).

How it works

In a sentinel lymph node biopsy, a radioactive substance and/or a dye is injected near the tumor site. Then, the first lymph nodes that pick up the dye (called the sentinel lymph nodes) are removed and reviewed by a pathologist to check for the presence of cancer cells. This procedure is sometimes preferred to standard lymph node dissection because it involves removing fewer lymph nodes.

A sentinel lymph node biopsy is commonly used in breast cancer treatment. Since it helps to spare lymph nodes in the underarm area, this procedure may help to prevent a condition known as lymphedema, in which excess fluid collects in tissue and causes swelling.

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