Radioisotope Injection for Sentinel Lymph Node Identification

What Is a Lymph Node?
Lymph nodes are numerous small, bean-shaped organs located throughout the lymphatic system. They are important in the function of immune response and store special cells that can trap cancer cells or bacteria traveling through the body through the lymphatic system.

The sentinel lymph node, also called the guard node, is the lymph node in the armpit (axilla) where breast cancer will first spread. In a sentinel node biopsy, the surgeon uses either a special blue dye or radioactive isotope (or, in some cases, both) that is injected into the breast prior to surgery.

What Can I Expect?
Prior to the procedure, a nurse will meet with you to complete an assessment, explain the procedure and provide the appropriate paperwork. The radiologist will then meet with you to answer any questions and have you sign consent forms for the procedure.

The radiologist will clean off the breast with an antiseptic and inject a local anesthetic into the skin to numb the area. Once you’re numb, the radiologist will inject the radioisotope near the nipple. The dye or isotope used then moves from the tumor to the lymphatic system.

The first node to turn blue or contain the radioactive material is the sentinel node. The sentinel node is then removed and immediately examined by the pathologist. The results of the test help to determine the next steps in your treatment.

The amount of radioactive material injected is very small and poses no threat to you or anyone around you. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, let your doctor know before your procedure.

After the radioisotope is injected, the nurse will cover the area and take you to surgery by wheelchair, where the remainder of your procedure will be done under the care of the surgical staff and your surgeon.

Download the brochure on sentinel node biopsy to learn more about the procedure.

Gwinnett Medical Center Imaging has multiple convenient Atlanta-area locations in Lawrenceville, Hamilton Mill and Duluth. If you would like to schedule an appointment, please call 678-312-3444.