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The Breast Health Center was the first in Rhode Island to offer sentinel node biopsy, a new technique that allows the physician to evaluate a patient’s lymph nodes and determine if she will be a candidate for chemotherapy. Evaluating the lymph nodes is one of the most important indicators of metastatic disease, or cancer that has spread beyond the breast.

Until recently, the surgical removal of the lymph nodes in the axilla, called axillary node dissection, was the method used. However, axillary node dissection is associated with higher incidence of lymphedema or swelling in the arms, decreased range of arm motion, loss of sensation in the arm, and breast swelling.

What to Expect

Sentinel node biopsy is an outpatient procedure that does not require general anesthesia. The site of the tumor is briefly injected with a radioactive isotope and blue dye. Using a probe to detect the radioactivity, the sentinel lymph node is identified in the axilla and removed. This sentinel lymph node is then examined in the laboratory for the presence of metastatic disease.

The procedure takes approximately one hour. The patient experiences minimal discomfort and can usually return to work the next day.