Caring for Yourself After Your Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy

This information will help you care for yourself after your sentinel lymph node biopsy at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK). You may have had this procedure if you have breast cancer or melanoma so that your doctor can see if the cancer cells have spread to your lymph nodes.

After Your Procedure

Your incision (surgical cut) will be closed with Steri-Strips™ (thin strips of paper tape) or Dermabond® (surgical glue) and covered with a bandage.

  • If your incision is covered with Steri-Strips, leave them on until they fall off on their own. However, if after 14 days the Steri-strips have not come off, you may gently remove them.
  • If your incision is covered with Dermabond, do not remove the glue. The Dermabond will peel off on its own.

Your incision may feel tender and sore. You may also notice numbness and tingling along your incision 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.

You may feel scar tissue along your incision as you continue to heal. It will feel hard. This is common and will soften over the next several months.

You may have a bluish-green stain near your incision from the blue dye that was used to find your sentinel node(s). The color will fade over time; however, some people may have a faint stain at the injection site for up to 12 months after their biopsy.

Your urine and stool may also be a bluish-green color. This will go away in 1 to 2 days, when the dye is out of your body.

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At Home


You will have some soreness in the area near your incision. 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.


You can shower 24 hours after your biopsy.

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


If you had breast surgery, keep your bra on for 72 hours after your biopsy. It will support and compress the area near the incision and help to ease your discomfort.

We suggest a supportive bra such as a sports bra. Wear your bra even while sleeping. You may remove your bra when you bathe or shower.


After your biopsy, you may have some stiffness or pain, in your arm or leg on your affected side (the side where your lymph nodes were removed). This is temporary. If after 6 weeks you still have trouble moving your arm or leg easily, call your doctor. If you had breast surgery, your nurse will give you a resource titled Exercises after Your Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy or Lumpectomy. These exercises will help with the stiffness.

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

  • Running
  • Jogging
  • Lifting weights
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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 MSK Resources for Life After Cancer (RLAC) Program provides support services after your treatment is finished. To learn more about these services, call 646-888-8106.

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.

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Call Your Doctor or Nurse if You Have:

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