Munson Health
Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy

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by Wood D

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Your doctor will do a physical exam. Tests may include the following:
Talk to your doctor about your medicines. You may be asked to stop taking some medicines up to one week before the procedure, such as:
  • Aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Blood thinners
Prior to the procedure, you should also:
  • Eat a light meal the night before. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.
  • Arrange for a ride to and from the hospital.


Depending on the location of the lymph node, you may be given one of the following:
  • General anesthesia—You will be asleep.
  • Local anesthesia—The area will be numb.
  • Regional anesthesia—An area of your body will be numb.

Description of the Procedure

A blue dye, and often a radioactive tracer, will be injected into the area where the tumor is. It may be done several hours before surgery. The dye and tracer will travel from the tumor area to the sentinel nodes. This will also help identify which nodes are the sentinel lymph nodes. A small incision will be made. The sentinel node(s) will be removed. The removed node will be checked for cancer cells. If cancer is found, the rest of the lymph nodes in that area will be removed.
If cancer is not seen in the sentinel node, it is unlikely that the cancer has spread to the other remaining lymph nodes. The other lymph nodes are not removed.

How Long Will It Take?

The biopsy takes about 30-60 minutes. Surgery to remove the entire cancer takes longer.

Will It Hurt?

Anesthesia prevents pain during surgery. Pain medicines are given during recovery.

Post-procedure Care

The result of the sentinel lymph node biopsy determines if additional lymph nodes need to be removed. It can also help determine the severity of your cancer.
Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions. Keep the surgical area clean and dry. Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe, or soak in water.
If you develop complications from lymph node surgery, you will need to take some special precautions. Discuss these precautions with your doctor.


American Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute



Canadian Cancer Society

Health Canada



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Sentinel lymph node biopsy: questions and answers. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Updated August 11, 2011. Accessed April 29, 2013.

Veronesi U, Paganelli G, et al. Sentinel-lymph-node biopsy as a staging procedure in breast cancer: update of a randomized controlled study. Lancet Oncol. 2006;7:983-990.

1/22/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Torres Lacomba M, Yuste Sánchez MJ, Zapico Goñi A, et al. Effectiveness of early physiotherapy to prevent lymphoedema after surgery for breast cancer: randomised, single blinded, clinical trial. BMJ. 2010;340:b5396.


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