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Instructions After Your Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy

This information will help you care for your biopsy site at home. This procedure is done for patients with breast cancer or melanoma to see if cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes.

Biopsy site

Your biopsy site will be covered with Steri-strips® (thin strips of paper tape). Do not remove the Steri-strips®. The tape will fall off on its own. However, if after 14 days the Steri-strips® have not come off, you may gently remove them.

You may feel tender, sore, numbness and tingling along your incision (surgical cut) site as it heals. This can come and go. It can last from a week to more than several months. These sensations happen as your nerves heal. They are completely normal and will improve with time.

As you continue to heal, you may feel scar tissue along your incision site(s). It will feel hard. This is common and will soften over the next several months.

Shower

Your healthcare provider will give you instructions on when you may shower.

Before showering, you can remove the bandage that was on your incisions. You do not need to put another bandage on after your shower.

Clothing

For breast patients, keep your bra on for 72 hours after your biopsy. We suggest a supportive bra such as a sports bra. Your bra will support and compress the biopsy site(s) and help to ease your discomfort. Wear your bra even while sleeping. Your may remove your bra when you bathe or shower.

Pain

You will most likely have some soreness at your incision site(s). Take acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®) to help. Your doctor may give you a prescription for stronger pain medication. If you are given a prescription pain medication, take the medication as instructed by your doctor or nurse. Do not drink alcohol or drive while you are taking prescription pain medication.

Blue Dye

The blue dye used to find your sentinel node(s) may cause a bluish-green stain near your incision. The color will fade over time although; some patients still have a faint stain at their injection site up to 12 months after their procedure.

After your procedure some dye will remain in your body. As a result, your urine and stool may be a bluish-green color. This will go away when the dye is out of your body.

Activities

You may return to most normal activities the day after your procedure. You should wait 7 days to resume heavy exercise, such as

  • Running
  • Jogging
  • Lifting weights

If you are comfortable you may walk or bicycle.

After your procedure, you may have some limited movement in your arm or legs. This is temporary. If after 6 weeks you still have trouble moving your arm or leg easily, call your doctor.

Lymphedema

During your biopsy, your doctor may remove some of your lymph nodes to see if the cancer has spread. In some cases, this can lead to damage of the lymphatic system. When the lymphatic system is damaged it may not drain properly, causing lymphatic fluid to build up. The extra fluid causes swelling called lymphedema. Lymphedema can occur in the arm, hand, breast, or torso on the side where your lymph nodes were removed.

Most women will not develop lymphedema, but some will. It's difficult to determine the risk of developing lymphedema because:

  • There is no standard test for diagnosing lymphedema.
  • Disruption of lymph nodes affects people differently.
  • Lymphedema can develop soon after surgery, or years later.

Depending on the location of your biopsy, you may have swelling at your incision site. Some mild swelling after surgery is normal and will go away with time. However, this swelling may be due to the buildup of lymphatic fluid. If the swelling does not go away on its own, call your doctor.

Emotional Support

The diagnosis and treatment of cancer can be a very stressful and overwhelming event. You may feel depressed, anxious, confused, afraid, or angry. You may have strong feelings about any permanent changes. These changes can have an impact on your emotional well-being. Help is available for you at any time. If you would like counseling, your nurse can give you a referral to see a social worker, psychiatrist, or counselor.

The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Resources for Life After Cancer (RFLAC) Program provides support services after your treatment is finished. To learn more about these services, call (646) 888-4740.

Also, you may find it comforting to speak with a cancer survivor or caregiver who has been through a similar treatment. Through our Patient-to-Patient Support Program, you have a chance to speak with former patients and caregivers. To learn more about this service, please call (212) 639-5007.

Information About Complications/Signs and Symptoms of Infection

Call your doctor or nurse if you notice:

  • A large area of redness or swelling around your incision site
  • You have any fluid at your incision site
  • A temperature above 101° F (38.3° C)