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Your sentinel nodes are a part of your lymph node system - the system that protects your body from infection and disease. Sentinel nodes are the first nodes that may be subject to the spread of cancer of the breast or melanoma (mole cancer).

What happens during sentinel node biopsy?

Sentinel node biopsies are often performed at the same time a tumour is removed under general anaesthetic. The length of your procedure will be based on the extent of surgery being performed along with the biopsy.

To locate the closest sentinel node to your tumour your surgeon will inject a radioactive solution or blue dye to identify the first area where the tumour might drain. They will remove the sentinel node and send it for further analysis in a laboratory.

If cancer is found in the node, other lymph nodes may be removed either during the biopsy procedure or as followup surgery. You may also need additional radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Be sure and discuss any concerns you have with your surgeon.

If no cancer is found in the node it means the cancer has not spread to your lymph system.

Going home after sentinel node biopsy

Your stay in hospital will depend on the result of your biopsy as well as the level of surgery performed during your visit. If only the biopsy is done you will probably be able to go home the day of the procedure. If a sentinel node biopsy  is performed as part of another procedure , you may need a hospital stay. Be sure and discuss your own case with your consultant. Please arrange for someone to drive you home as you will not be allowed drive for the first 24-48 hours.

You may need to take pain relief medication such as Paracetamol for the first few days. Be sure and discuss any return to normal activities or work with your consultant.

With any surgery there could be complications including:

  • Bleeding
  • Pain
  • Bruising
  • Infection

Specific complications of sentinel node biopsy:

  • Allergy to dye
  • Swelling and fluid buildup (lymphedema)
  • Blue staining at the wound site
  • Blue or green coloured urine (for a few days after surgery).

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