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Practitioner looking in microscope

Sentinel node mapping and biopsy is a technique that may be performed in conjunction with breast cancer surgery, such as a mastectomy, in order to assess the lymph nodes in the underarm area (axillary lymph nodes) for evidence of cancer. The information gleaned from this procedure can be utilized by oncologists when staging the cancer and planning the patient’s follow-up treatment. The axillary lymph node located closest to the breast cancer tumor is known as the “sentinel node.”

Because this lymph node handles drainage from the breast, it is usually the first area where breast cancer cells metastasize. When lymph node involvement is unconfirmed prior to surgery, sentinel node mapping and biopsy may be recommended as a less invasive alternative to axillary dissection for obtaining information about how far a patient’s breast cancer has spread. On the other hand, if lymph node involvement is confirmed before surgery, a patient may be advised to undergo axillary lymph node dissection, which is a more complex procedure designed to remove the cancer-containing lymph nodes. A sentinel node mapping and biopsy typically involves the following steps:

  • During surgery, a surgeon injects a “tracer” substance, such as a blue dye, into the affected breast near the tumor
  • The surgeon identifies the sentinel node by observing which node absorbs the tracer first
  • The surgeon removes the sentinel node
  • A pathologist examines the sentinel node under a microscope for evidence of cancer

If cancerous cells are not found in the sentinel node, lymph node involvement is unlikely, but if the sentinel node tests positive, further evaluation or treatment is usually recommended.

Patients who are seeking the latest breast cancer diagnostic and treatment options are welcome to come to Moffitt Cancer Center – with or without referrals. The Don & Erika Wallace Comprehensive Breast Program features a full-service clinic that offers comprehensive and highly individualized plans that incorporate cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and support. At Moffitt, every patient’s case is thoroughly reviewed and monitored by a talented team of specialists in a wide range of disciplines. This is just one way we ensure the best possible patient care.

To learn more about sentinel node mapping and biopsy, breast cancer surgery or other procedures, call 1-888-663-3488 or use our convenient online new patient registration form to schedule an appointment.


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