When treating breast cancer, it is important to know if the cancer has spread beyond the breast. Fortunately, for many people the risk of metastasis – cancer that has spread to other parts of the body – is relatively low.

Lymphoscintigraphy, or sentinel lymph node mapping, is an imaging test used to check the lymph system for the spread of cancer, and to locate and biopsy the sentinel lymph node. The sentinel node is the first node that filters fluid from the breast and typically the first to be affected by the spread of cancer.

This test helps doctors stage your cancer and determine the best course of treatment. If the sentinel node does not contain cancer, there is a high likelihood that the cancer has not spread to other areas of the body, which may reduce the amount of surgery or radiation/chemotherapy you may need. If the sentinel node is positive, the surgeon may perform an axillary (underarm) node dissection to assess how many other lymph nodes are affected.

In most cases, your sentinel lymph node mapping and surgery will be scheduled together as a same-day outpatient procedure; in some cases, it may require an overnight stay. A radiologist will inject a small amount of non-toxic, radioactive tracer into the breast. The tracer, Lymphoseek, targets and binds tightly to lymph nodes within 15 minutes, allowing the surgeon to immediately locate and remove the sentinel node.

Most patients go to surgery shortly after the tracer is injected and a nuclear imaging scan reveals the affected nodes. There are usually no side effects, and most patients go home the same day.

For more information, call our breast health nurses at 941-917-2636. To schedule a mammogram, call 941-917-7322.