This is a way of checking whether the cancer has spread into the lymph glands. It involves injecting a tiny amount of radioactive liquid (Technetium isotope) into the area of the cancer before the operation. The lymph nodes are then scanned to see which has taken up the radioactive liquid first. A blue dye is also injected into the area of the cancer during the operation. The dye stains the lymph nodes blue. The nodes that are blue or radioactive are known as the sentinel nodes. The surgeon removes only the sentinel nodes through a small incision in the armpit so that they can be tested to see whether they contain cancer cells.
Results of research trials suggest that sentinel node biopsy is as effective at detecting cancer cells in the lymph glands as lymph node sampling or clearance. Stiffness and swelling (lymphoedema) of the arm is lesser in this than removing all the lymph glands. It causes less pain and does not need a drain into the wound afterwards. If the sentinel node does not contain cancer, no further surgery is needed, but if the node does contain cancer cells, either a further operation will be done to remove the lymph glands from the armpit or the remaining lymph glands need to be treated with radiotherapy. Onco-Plastic surgeon in Liverpool is an expert in sentinel node biopsy.
Like all operations sentinel node biopsy operation is associated with certain complications. These include, bleeding, infection, allergic reaction to the blue dye (Patient will be carefully monitored and treated if they shows signs of reaction), bluish discoloration of the nipple which may lasts as long as several months. The urine, faeces and occasionally the saliva may have a bluish tinge till the following day of the operation.