A person has thousands of lymph nodes throughout their body. Of these lymph nodes, the sentinel is one of the first lymph nodes to show cancer cells when it spread from a primary tumor. A sentinel node biopsy can reduce the number of nodes removed and the need for extensive surgical procedures. Commonly there is one sentinel node, but there may be more than one.

Identifying This Node

The sentinel lymph node is identified by dye or radioactive substance near the tumor. Sometimes both are used to track the lymph fluid drainage from around cancer. When the dye or radioactive material is found in a node, it is removed, and a biopsy is performed. This is commonly done at the time the tumor is removed.


A patient who is has a cancerous tumor will be tested to see if cancer has spread from a primary tumor. The first place that will be verified will be the lymph nodes, and the first lymph nodes to have a biopsy will be the sentinel nodes. A lymph node biopsy is when the nodes are removed. The biopsy helps to determine the stage that the cancer is in.


Once the node has been removed, a biopsy is done to determine cancer involvement. When the sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) is negative, it means there is no cancer present in the node. When the result is positive, it means there is cancer in the node, and it may have spread to other lymph nodes (regional lymph nodes) and other organs. Further testing will need to be done. Sometimes the node will be tested for cancer during the surgery, and other lymph nodes are removed at the time of the sentinel node biopsy.

Side Effects

All surgical procedures have risks. In addition to these risks, the following risks may occur with lymph node biopsies:

  • Build up of lymph fluid due to lymph flow being changed with some nodes removed, which causes swelling, pain, and increase risk of infection in affected limbs (Lymphedema)
  • Build up of lymph at the site of the surgery (Seroma)
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Impaired movement

These risks occur due to the removal of lymph nodes but are worth it to diagnose and treat cancer accurately. A healthcare professional will help you make an informed decision.

Benefits From A Biopsy

The biopsy is done as an outpatient procedure with quick recovery time. When a sentinel node biopsy is negative, it prevents unnecessary aggressive treatment. If there is cancer in the sentinel node, further testing can be done to determine the extent of the spread of disease. The fewer lymph nodes that are removed, the better it is for the patient because it reduces side effects and complications of lymph node removal.

Get More Information – Lymph Node Cancer


When having a sentinel node biopsy done, the procedure should be done by an experienced surgeon at a facility that can accurately test the tissue for cancer promptly.