Nuclear Medicine Sentinel Lymph Node Scan

What is a Sentinel Lymph Node Scan?

A nuclear medicine sentinel lymph node study is a functional exam done to help your Surgeon locate the very first node that receives lymph in closest proximity to your breast cancer or melanoma. The sentinel nodes are the first nodes through which lymphatic fluid flows from a tumor. In other words, the sentinel nodes are like the gatekeepers to the rest of the lymph nodes. Cancer spreads throughout our bodies by the lymphatic system and the idea is that if we can isolate the sentinel lymph node, remove it, and test it for the cancer we might be able to successfully and more appropriately treat your cancer and perhaps save you from having additional, more painful surgeries. This exam is done by injecting a small, safe amount of radioactive material right next to your tumor.

How is the examination performed?

A registered and certified Nuclear Medicine Technologist will assist your Surgeon with your examination and can answer any questions you may have.

The area around your tumor will be prepared and cleansed for the injection and then the Technologist or Radiologist will inject.  Following the injection, a series of images are taken that last about one hour.

Who is a candidate for a Sentinel Lymph Node Scan?

This exam is usually done on patients that have already been diagnosed with either breast cancer or melanoma.

Will I need to prepare for the exam?

You will follow any preparation given to you for the surgery, because there is no preparation for the nuclear medicine part of the exam.

What will I experience?

You will begin your journey in the pre-op area.  You will be eventually brought over to the nuclear medicine room for your injection. The area around your tumor will be cleansed and prepped for the injection by the technologist or our Radiologist. You will feel some pressure and a needle stick that will only last a short time. You will then be asked to lie still for a series of images, after your injection and images, there is about a two hour wait back over in pre-op before your surgery. Once in surgery, the Surgeon will make another injection, this time using a blue dye. The blue dye will form a pathway from your tumor to the lymph nodes. Using this pathway or map and a small radiation meter, the Surgeon will be able to locate the “hot” node or nodes, indicating the sentinel lymph node(s). Your surgeon will remove it or them and send your sentinel lymph node(s) to the Pathologist to examine for any sign of cancer.  Once this is done, your Surgeon will discuss the results with you.

What happens next?

Your images will be analyzed by the Technologist on the nuclear medicine computer and sent to the Radiologist’s computer for interpretation.

The images will be interpreted by a State of New Mexico licensed and board certified Physician, Radiologist, that specializes in radiology interpretation. A report will be dictated, transcribed, and faxed to the Physician that ordered your test. Your Physician will receive the report and is responsible for notifying  you of the results.