Sentinel lymph node biopsy

A sentinel lymph node biopsy is a specialized type of biopsy that, along with a lymphoscintigraphy, may be performed to evaluate if cancer has spread to lymph nodes.

This type of biopsy is based on the idea that cancer cells spread in an orderly manner from where they start — first, to the sentinel lymph node(s), and then to other nearby lymph nodes before spreading to other organs in the body. The sentinel lymph node is the first lymph node to which cancer is likely to spread. In some cases, there can be more than one sentinel lymph node. 

In a sentinel lymph node biopsy, the sentinel lymph node is identified, removed, and examined under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present. This information may help the doctor determine the stage of the cancer (the extent of the spread of cancer in the body) and develop the best treatment plan. For instance, if the sentinel biopsy does not show cancer in the lymph node, the doctor may opt not to remove other underarm tissue and lymph nodes.

Sentinel biopsies can reduce the risk of infections, wound healing complications and lymphedema — the painful buildup of fluid in the legs from a damaged lymph system.

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Where a patient is screened or tested makes a difference. Northwell Health Imaging combines the skill of subspecialized radiologists with advanced imaging techniques.