Reasons and Procedure For Conducting a Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy

Submitted on March 27, 2012

Cancer is one of the most significant medical evils prevalent in today’s world and, unfortunately, still has no cure. Before getting into the details of what a sentinel lymph node biopsy is, it would help to have a clearer understanding of exactly what a sentinel lymph node is. The sentinel lymph node is considered to be the first gland that receives the lymphatic drainage from a tumor. Lymphatic drainage is a system that returns the lymph fluid used by the nervous system in the body, back to its original location - within the lymph nodes. Studies on cancer have shown that its spread will usually follow a certain order of progression. Because of the fact that the flow of lymph fluid if directional; any cancers that develop in this system will first spread to the regional lymph nodes and then to the echelons of those nodes. Given that the sentinel lymph node is the first cell in the lymphatic chain, undergoing a sentinel lymph node biopsy will help ascertain whether the cancer has affected any part of the chain of the lymphatic system.

Procedure For Conducting a Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy

The sentinel lymph node biopsy procedure will start with the physician performing what is known as a lymphoscintigraphy - which is a procedure that is characterized by injecting a low activity radioactive substance near the tumor. After the injected substance has been administered, the physician will gently massage the sites of injection in order to allow and ease the pain as well as speed up the lymph intake of the injected substance. This too forms part of the lymph node biopsy technique. Imaging will usually commence within about 15 minutes of the injections being administered and will also make the use of a Geiger counter as well as a gamma probe. When the doctor is able to gauge which of the nodes have taken up most of the injected substance, it is an indication that these are the sentinel nodes. A surgeon will then remove a sample of these nodes and have them sent to the laboratory for inspection.

Advantages of the Procedure

There are many advantages in the use of sentinel lymph node biopsy using blue dye as well as other tracers such as the fact that it plays an active role in reducing the risk of lymphedema, which is a common complication of unnecessary lymph node dissections. However, sentinel lymph node biopsy and melanoma cases are known to throw up a number of false negatives, which means that there might still be a threat of cancer even in cases where that is not the final result of the test. Information on the sentinel lymph node biopsy cpt code, its complications, preparations and so on is best got from your doctor.