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Lymph Node Biopsy for Breast Cancer


To make an appointment with a Maimonides breast specialist, call 718-765-2520 or request an appointment online.


Breast cancer can sometimes spread to your lymphatic system, a part of your immune system that helps your body remove toxins. Our breast surgeons perform lymph node biopsies to check for cancer and to remove lymph nodes that are cancerous.

After lymph node surgery, some people experience a build-up of lymph fluid, or lymphedema. Our specialists work with you to lower this risk. Your doctor may recommend therapy before surgery to decrease the number of lymph nodes that need to be removed. This step may lower the risk of lymphedema. Should you develop lymphedema, we help manage symptoms.


Types of Lymph Node Biopsies

Our surgeons have extensive experience performing lymph node biopsies. We offer:

  • Sentinel lymph node biopsy

  • Axillary lymph node dissection

Sentinel lymph node biopsy

Sentinel lymph nodes are the first stop for fluid that filters away from your breasts. If breast cancer has spread to your lymphatic system, it will show up first in the sentinel nodes.

To find a sentinel lymph node, your interventional radiologist injects blue dye near the tumor site while in the operating room. The substance travels through the lymphatic system to the sentinel nodes. Your surgeon removes these sentinel nodes and checks them for cancer. If the nodes are cancerous, your surgeon may remove more lymph nodes during the biopsy or at a later time.

Axillary lymph node dissection

If cancer has spread to the sentinel lymph nodes, your doctor may recommend removing multiple lymph nodes from the axilla (armpit area) near the affected breast. You may receive chemotherapy prior to surgery to make enlarged lymph nodes smaller and easier to remove.

During the procedure, your doctor removes fatty tissue in the armpit that contains affected lymph nodes. Lab results can confirm the number of lymph nodes that have cancer.


Lymphedema Treatment

Removing lymph nodes disrupts the lymphatic system’s flow. This change can lead to lymphedema, a build-up of lymph fluid in soft tissue. Lymphedema can cause pain, numbness, swelling and tingling in the arms and hands, as well as in other parts of the body. The condition may develop immediately after surgery or months later.

To reduce your chances of developing this problem, you work with our lymphedema specialist before and after surgery. This specialized physical therapist teaches techniques to reduce swelling, increase flexibility and strength, and potentially prevent lymphedema. Learn more about physical rehabilitation medicine.