Sentinel Node Biopsy

This test gives us crucial information about your breast cancer and treatment options.

Sentinel node biopsy is an important test for breast cancer. This breast lymph node test makes it possible for our breast cancer team to provide less-invasive breast cancer treatments.

We’re a recognized leader in this approach for breast cancer diagnosis:

  • Our breast cancer surgeons were the first in Michigan to perform this groundbreaking procedure.
  • We’re also among only a few centers in the U.S. to pioneer research on the use of sentinel node biopsy for breast cancer patients.

What is sentinel node biopsy?

Sentinel node biopsy is the surgical removal of only the sentinel lymph node under the arm in breast cancer patients.

  • Prior to surgery, the surgeon injects a small amount of radioactive material into the breast. This material moves through the breast’s lymph node system and helps it show up on a special scan.
  • During surgery, we inject a harmless blue dye into the area near the breast cancer. This makes it easier for the breast surgeon to find the sentinel lymph node.
  • The surgeon then removes the sentinel lymph node. Our expert pathologists examine it to determine if breast cancer cells have invaded the lymph node.

This procedure makes it possible for doctors and pathologists to accurately diagnose whether the breast cancer has spread (metastasized) to the lymph nodes.

What are lymph nodes?

Lymph nodes -- which are about the size of beans or peas -- are located throughout the body. These nodes contain clusters of infection-fighting cells. Lymph nodes are one of the body’s first lines of defense against the spread of infection.

About 20 to 50 lymph nodes are located under each arm, where they destroy bacteria and other foreign substances.The sentinel lymph node is the lymph node that is closest to the breast. For breast cancer patients, this means the sentinel lymph node is the first lymph node in the area under the arm to receive cancerous material from a breast tumor.

What are my options after sentinel node biopsy?

The sentinel node biopsy procedure provides important information for the doctor on the next steps in treating your breast cancer.

If the biopsy tests negative, sentinel node biopsy minimizes the invasiveness of breast cancer surgery and makes surgery recovery easier by avoiding the unnecessary removal of all underarm lymph nodes.

If the sentinel node biopsy is positive for cancer, your doctor knows the breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. This means you’ll need additional treatment, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of treatments.

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