Figuring out if (and where) breast cancer has spread is key to determining the most effective breast cancer treatments for each person. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, your doctor may recommend a low-risk, outpatient surgical procedure that looks for cancer cells in the lymph nodes beneath your arms. It’s called a sentinel lymph node biopsy.

The breast surgeons at The Janet Knowles Breast Cancer Center at MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper have deep expertise performing this lymph node surgery, with successful results.

Breast Cancer Lymph Node Surgery: What You Should Know

As part of your breast cancer treatment, your surgeon may remove some of the lymph nodes under your arm to learn if the cancer has spread. Here’s what you should know:

  • How and when the procedure is performed: Your doctor may recommend you have this biopsy at the same time, before, or after breast surgery, depending on the clinical circumstances. First, special dyes injected into the breast help locate which lymph nodes have cancer cells in them. If cancer cells are present, your doctor may need to remove all of the lymph nodes under your arm. This helps ensure they get rid of as much disease as possible.
  • Why we examine the lymph nodes: Your lymph nodes act as filters for your body’s lymphatic drainage system. They “catch” or filter out cancer cells that might be near the cancerous area of the breast. Your doctor may want to examine different nodes that are near your breasts, including those around your neck and collarbone and those found under your arm.
  • Points to note: If your doctor finds cancer in any of your lymph nodes, your risk of having cancer cells in other parts of your body increases. Your doctor will use this information to pinpoint which treatments are most likely to treat the cancer fully. Read more about our breast cancer surgery options.

Why Choose MD Anderson Cooper for Breast Cancer Care?

As a partner with MD Anderson Cancer Center (one of the nation’s leading cancer centers), you have access to comprehensive breast cancer prevention, detection, and treatment services. You’ll benefit from:

  • Advanced screening and diagnosis: With recent advances in screening, many breast cancers are found earlier, when the disease is most treatable. Our imaging centers are designated Breast Imaging Centers of Excellence by the American College of Radiology. That means our specialists use the latest imaging technologies for effective breast cancer screening and diagnosis.
  • Convenience: We have multiple offices throughout South Jersey, so you can choose a center that works best for your schedule.
  • Team approach to breast cancer care: With our multidisciplinary cancer care, you have a team of breast cancer specialists working to come up with the best treatment plan for you. Breast surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, reconstructive surgeons, and other skilled professionals pool their expertise to provide the highest level of care. Learn more about what we offer at the Janet Knowles Breast Cancer Center.
  • Access to clinical trials: Because of our breast cancer research efforts, you may have the option to participate in an ongoing clinical trial. This gives you the chance to try promising new breast cancer treatments. 
  • Dedicated nurse navigator: Our skilled and compassionate nurse navigator serves as your advocate, educating you about your treatment options and helping you keep track of your next steps.
  • Full range of support services: We offer financial, behavioral, and nutrition support services, as well as other resources at your disposal, to support your whole health during the cancer care process. Read more about our cancer care support services.

Contact Us

To learn more about the lymph node surgical services available at MD Anderson Cooper or to schedule an appointment, please call 855.MDA.COOPER (855.632.2667).

Refer a Patient

If you are a doctor who wants to refer a patient in need of a sentinel lymph node biopsy to MD Anderson Cooper, please call 855.MDA.COOPER (855.632.2667).