Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

Do you know what you should ask your doctor before you have a biopsy?

Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before a Biopsy

A biopsy is a sample of tissue removed by your doctor to make a precise diagnosis. Biopsy procedures can range from a simple sampling of skin under local anesthesia to surgical opening of the chest wall to remove a portion of lung tissue. Biopsies may also be obtained during diagnostic procedures such as endoscopy, colonoscopy, bronchoscopy, and others. Sometimes doctors perform biopsies using a CAT scanor other radiological imaging techniques to help identify the exact area to be sampled and avoid injury to surrounding organs. There are several types of biopsies.

Quick GuideUnderstanding Cancer: Metastasis, Stages of Cancer, and More

Understanding Cancer: Metastasis, Stages of Cancer, and More

What is a sentinel lymph node biopsy?

The sentinel lymph nodes are the first few lymph nodes ("lymph gland") to receive lymphatic drainage from a tumor, meaning that sentinel lymph nodes are the first lymph nodes to which cancer cells would spread. It stands sentinel over the tumor, so to speak. The biopsy is performed to determine if there are tumor cells in the node. If the sentinel lymph node does not contain tumor cells (a negative result), then the cancer has not likely spread to lymph nodes or other organs via the lymphatic system.

What is the lymphatic drainage?

Lymphatic system refers to a collection of vessels that, like the system of blood vessels, circulates fluid through the tissues. The lymphatic drainage refers to the manner in which tissue fluid, or lymph, is drained from the body and returns to a central location -- in this case, a lymph node. The lymphatic fluid has a milky appearance.

Why do a biopsy of the sentinel node?

Examination of the sentinel node ("gland") is performed to learn whether that node does or does not have tumor cells within it. The biopsy is performed to verify if there are tumor cells present. This procedure helps the surgeon accurately stage the tumor. Staging a tumor refers to determining the extent to which it has spread in the body.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/29/2016

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