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Definition of Sentinel lymph node biopsy

Sentinel lymph node biopsy: Examination of the first lymph node ("gland") that receives lymphatic drainage from a tumor to determine whether that node does or does not have tumor cells within it.

Which lymph node is the sentinel node for a given tumor is determined by injecting around the tumor a tracer substance that will travel through the lymphatic system to the first draining (sentinel) node and identify it. The tracer substance may be blue dye that can be visually tracked or a radioactive colloid that can be radiologically followed.

Biopsy of the sentinel lymph node can reveal whether there are lymphatic metastases. If the sentinel node contains tumor cells, removal of more nodes in the area may be warranted. If the sentinel node is normal, this obviates the need for extensive dissection of the regional lymph-node basin.

Sentinel lymph node biopsy has become a standard technique to determine the nodal stage of disease in some patients with malignant melanoma and in breast cancer.

Source: MedTerms™ Medical Dictionary
http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=30987
Last Editorial Review: 9/20/2012

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