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Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy (cont.)

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How does a tumor spread?

Tumors have only three ways of spreading:

  • by local invasion of adjacent tissue,
  • through the blood stream, and
  • through the lymphatic system.

Some tumors spread preferentially by the lymphatic system, meaning that they tend to spread by this method.

How is it determined which is the sentinel node?

Which lymph nodes are the sentinel nodes 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) nodes and identify them. The tracer substance may be blue dye that can be visually tracked or a radioactive substance that can be detected as with a Geiger counter or both.

What types of specialists perform a sentinel lymph node biopsy?

Sentinel lymph node biopsy is performed by surgeons. This procedure is most commonly performed to evaluate breast cancers and melanomas so breast surgeons will perform this procedure, as well.

What happens during a sentinel lymph node biopsy?

After the tracer substance is injected, the surgeon identifies the sentinel lymph node and surgically removes it through a small incision. This may be done in an outpatient surgery center or a hospital operating room. Sentinel lymph node biopsy is often done at the same time as the removal of a primary tumor.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/29/2016


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