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Should I Have A Sentinel Node Biopsy?

The first lymph nodes that drain lymph fluid from the primary tumor are called sentinel lymph nodes.The first lymph nodes that drain lymph fluid from the primary tumor are called sentinel lymph nodes.

The first lymph nodes that drain lymph fluid from the primary tumor are called sentinel lymph nodes. Experts suggest that if the sentinel nodes do not show any cancer cells, the other nodes will also be devoid of cancer. This means that there may not be a need to remove the lymph nodes in the region where the cancer is present. Thus, knowing the status of sentinel lymph nodes is crucial in the management of cancers.

The management of various cancers largely depends on the stage of the disease. If the cancer has spread into the lymph nodes, it means the disease has spread beyond its original site (the primary tumor). Lymph nodes are small glands that are part of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is involved in the formations of the white blood cells or WBCs. It is also the site where lymph, a clear fluid containing the white blood cells, is filtered. When cancer, such as cancer of the vulva or cervix, begins to spread, it often first goes to the lymph node near the cancer.

If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, the person may need a bigger surgery that involves the removal of the regional lymph nodes besides the primary tumor. Sentinel lymph node biopsy also helps to know the chances of recovery and survival of the cancer patient. Thus, if your doctor suggests, you should consider going for the procedure for timely diagnosis and early management of your cancer.

What is a sentinel node biopsy?

A sentinel lymph node biopsy is a surgical procedure in which a few lymph nodes nearest to the tumor are removed and examined for the presence of cancer cells. It is a minimally invasive surgery with a low risk of side effects. Sentinel lymph node biopsy or SLNB helps the doctor know about the stage of the cancer. This helps them plan appropriate treatment for the patient. It also helps the doctor know the patient’s chances of recovery (prognosis).

During a sentinel lymph node biopsy:

  • A dye or a tracer material is injected into the site of the tumor to help the surgeon locate the sentinel nodes during the procedure.
  • The path from the tumor to the sentinel lymph nodes is mapped using an instrument that detects the tracer.
  • The surgeon removes the sentinel lymph nodes and sends them for lab examination.

If the sentinel lymph node biopsy detects cancer cells, the surgeon removes all local lymph nodes or destroys them with radiation therapy or does both surgery and radiation therapy.

What are the complications of sentinel node biopsy?

Sentinel lymph node biopsy is a minimally invasive procedure. This crucial procedure usually has minimal risks. Some of the complications of sentinel node biopsy include:

  • Bleeding
  • Pain
  • Bruising
  • Infections
  • Allergic reactions to the dye used during the procedure
  • Injury
  • Lymphedema (localized swelling, typically in the arms and legs, due to blockage in lymph flow)

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