We use sentinel lymph node biopsy to diagnose and stage cancer. This procedure helps us determine whether cancer has spread (metastasized). During a sentinel lymph node biopsy, a radioactive substance and/or a dye is injected near the tumor site. The first lymph nodes that pick up the dye are called the sentinel lymph nodes.
Your surgeon would remove the sentinel lymph nodes and send them to a pathologist to check for the presence of cancer cells. The 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 to see if cancer has spread to the axillary lymph nodes located under the arm. Because it helps to spare lymph nodes in the underarm area, this procedure may help prevent a condition known as lymphedema, in which excess fluid collects in tissue and causes swelling.
Sentinel lymph node biopsy also is used for gynecologic cancers as an alternative to removing the pelvic lymph nodes. Sentinel lymph node biopsy may reduce the risk of complications compared with removing the pelvic lymph nodes entirely.