Definition of Sentinel Lymph Node Dissection

Surgery to remove and biopsy the first lymph node in the lymph network that drains lymph from the location of a cancerous tumor. The sentinel node is important in determining the course of treatment for the cancer because it would be the first lymph structure to which cancer cells would migrate in metastasis.

During the operation to remove the tumor, the surgeon injects a dye into the tissues at the tumor’s location. The first lymph node to show the presence of the dye is the sentinel node, which the surgeon then removes.

If cancer cells are in the sentinel node, then the surgeon removes additional lymph nodes and possibly more tissue surrounding the tumor. If there are no cancer cells in the sentinel node, then the surgeon does not need to remove any further tissue.

Sentinel lymph node dissection is increasingly common in surgery for breast cancer, malignant melanoma, and other cancers that may remain localized.

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