What is a sentinel lymph node biopsy, and what are its benefits and risks?

A sentinel node biopsy takes advantage of a peculiar physiologic and anatomical finding. Although there may be many lymph nodes in a particular drainage region, it appears that only one or two are the first recipients of the regional fluids.

This means that if any nodes will be involved by tumor spread, the sentinel node will be the first. It also means in general that if the sentinel node is not involved, then no other nodes will be affected. Therefore, only the sentinel node needs to be removed. There are techniques for removing just the sentinel nodes. A sentinel node biopsy allows the pathologist to more intensively study this node and apply specialized techniques that are capable of detecting even a few cancer cells.

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