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Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy

How It Is Done

You will need to take off clothing near the biopsy site. You will wear a gown for a covering during the test.

If you are very anxious about the biopsy, you may be given a medicine (sedative) to help you relax.

Before a sentinel node biopsy is done, the dye or tracer is injected into the area, and a special camera (lymphoscintigraphy) takes pictures of the lymph nodes. Some doctors use pain medicine with the dye to reduce discomfort. The dye may turn your skin blue for a few days after the biopsy.

The first lymph node or nodes to absorb the tracer are called the sentinel nodes. This node or nodes and the tissue around them are taken out. You may have a numbing medicine (local anesthesia) or go to sleep for the biopsy. The lymph node sample is cut into many thin slices and looked at under a microscope for cancer. You will have some stitches and a bandage over the biopsy site.

A sentinel lymph node biopsy usually takes 30 to 60 minutes but may take longer. If you have general anesthesia, you will be watched by a nurse in the recovery room until you are fully awake.

Your doctor will give you specific instructions to take care of your biopsy site. During your follow-up visit, your doctor will discuss the results of your biopsy with you and take out your stitches.

How It Feels

You may feel a sharp sting or burn from the medicine used to numb the biopsy site or from the dye or tracer. Feeling pressure or warmth during the biopsy is normal, but you should feel little or no pain. If you have pain, tell your doctor. If you feel like you are having an allergic reaction, tell your doctor. This can happen with the dye used for this biopsy.

If you have general anesthesia, you may feel drowsy for several hours after the biopsy. You may have a mild sore throat from the tube used to help you breathe during the biopsy. Throat lozenges and gargling with warm salt water may help soothe your sore throat. You may get medicine at the biopsy site that will help with the pain for 6 to 12 hours. You may have more pain after this medicine wears off.

The biopsy site may be sore for several days. A small amount of bleeding is normal. Ask your doctor how much drainage to expect. Call your doctor immediately if you have:

  • An increase in pain, redness, or swelling at the biopsy site.
  • A fever.
  • An increase in bleeding or drainage, such as pus.
  • Any swelling in your arm.

Risks

It is possible to have some problems after a biopsy. Your doctor will give you instructions on what to do if a problem occurs.

  • Bleeding from the biopsy site. This risk is higher for people who have bleeding problems or who take blood-thinning medicines. If you are at risk for bleeding, you may be given blood clotting factors before the biopsy.
  • Skin numbness at the biopsy site
  • Infection at the biopsy site
  • Swelling and fluid buildup (lymphedema). This is less likely after a sentinel node biopsy than if more lymph nodes are taken out (axillary dissection).
  • Problems from general anesthesia, if it is used
  • Damage to nerves at the biopsy site. This may cause weakness or pain.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 27, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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