The discovery of cancer in your body can be an extraordinarily scary process as you undergo test after test. But these tests are critical in helping your oncologist determine the extent, or stage of your cancer, which will determine your treatment path moving forward.
At Candela and Schreier Medical Corporation, with offices in West Hills and Thousand Oaks, California, the expert surgical oncologists work tirelessly to help their patients fight cancer. And one of the most effective tools in their arsenal is the sentinel node biopsy. Here’s a quick look at why you may need a sentinel node biopsy.
Lymph nodes 101
If you or a loved one has a new diagnosis of cancer, the amount of information can be daunting. Like most people, you’ve probably remained mostly unaware of certain parts of your body, such as your lymph nodes. With a cancer diagnosis, these tiny organs become very important in staging and treating your cancer.
Lymph nodes are part of your body’s lymphatic system, and they’re mostly found in your neck, chest, abdomen, groin, and under your arms. These small organs — of which there are more than 600 — are connected by lymphatic vessels, and they all work together as an integral part of your body’s immune system.
When there’s an invader, such as bacteria, or virus, these unwelcome foreigners can get trapped in lymph nodes. In fact, it’s their presence of these invaders in your lymphatic system that kicks your immune system into action. Cancer cells can also travel the lymphatic system and get trapped lymph nodes as they attempt to get to other places in body or metastasize.
Cancer is an insidious disease that causes abnormal cells to develop, multiply, and spread. It’s this last aspect that we’re concerned with when we perform a sentinel node biopsy. When we perform your initial biopsy to check for cancer, we go straight to the suspicious area and remove tissue or cells to determine that cancer is present. The next step is to see whether it has spread. If it has, it typically does so through your lymph nodes or your blood.
As we zero in to find out if your cancer has spread, we identify one of the lymph nodes in the basin that drains that area of the cancer as a sentinel lymph node. This lymph node gets its distinction due to its proximity to your cancer and the likelihood of cancer cells traveling through this node first.
The sentinel biopsy procedure
To determine which lymph node is the sentinel node, we inject a dye or radioactive tracer into the area around the tumor to see where it’s carried to first. Once we identify the node that’s the first point of contact, we make a small incision and remove the node.
During your procedure, we send the sentinel node to a pathologist for review. If the results reveal the presence of cancer cells, it’s a sign that your cancer has spread — at least as far as that node, if not farther into other organs. At that point, additional lymph nodes may be removed.
If the results are negative, or there are no cancer cells seen in the node,, it also allows us to avoid further lymph node removal.
The procedure itself isn’t very invasive, and we take care to make only small incisions to remove the sentinel lymph node. We typically perform a sentinel lymph node biopsy on an outpatient basis, which means you can return home afterward.
If you’d like to learn more about sentinel lymph node biopsies or surgical oncology, please book an appointment online or over the phone with Candela and Schreier Medical Corporation today.