Question asked by Helen Riehl, Eleven-Year Breast Cancer Survivor: I'm interested in this new procedure known as the 'sentinel node biopsy' this was not available at the time I had my surgery. Would you please elaborate on that?
Answer from Karleen Habin, R.N.: Yes, Helen, I would be happy to address the question that you'd had. Sentinel biopsy is a new, less invasive procedure in which we help to identify whether or not there is lymph node involvement, and primarily this is with invasive breast cancer.
The 'sentinel' is a term that is used for the 'guard' who often is guarding the gate or the castle, and that's the way I like to describe it to my patients. Underneath the arm, there are about 40 to 50 lymph nodes, and they are separated by nerves and blood vessels. And it's an easier procedure to take out and identify the sentinel lymph node; if those nodes are positive, then we are able to complete the axillary node dissection.
What is involved in a sentinel node? There is something called 'technetium,' a very small amount that is instilled under the tumor or around the areola and helps the surgeon in the operating room, with the use of a Geiger Counter, to help to identify where that sentinel node is.