Supporting women whose lives have been touched by breast cancer

Sentinel node scan

By bl

I turned up for my appointment in the radiology department shortly before 11.30 am. I had only just sat down and opened a magazine when my name was called and I was taken to the Nuclear Medicine Department.

It was much smaller than I expected. There was a small L-shaped waiting area with a bed tucked round the corner, a changing room and toilet in one corner, a door into a dispensing room and another with ‘skull and crossbones’ on it that lead to the scanner.

I changed into my hospital gown and was told to lie on the bed. Everything was explained to me before it happened. I was asked what area of my breast they were investigating, as this told them where to inject the dye. I was surprised that although the area under investigation was the lower left side of my right breast, he injected the dye at a higher point, just next to my nipple. They explained the dye would sting when it went in, but the stinging sensation would not last for long. There was the ‘slight scratch’ and it stung more than I was prepared for. I had been expecting a similar ‘sting’ to a local anaesthetic and it was more than that, but by no means unbearable, and disappeared as soon as the area was massaged. The time taken for the dye to be taken up by the lymph nodes varies from patient to patient; some it’s almost instant and at the other extreme some patients have to go back the next day. I was told I would have aquamarine wee!

Unfortunately, the scanner had broken that morning and although the engineer had just fixed it they needed to run some tests and then had a backlog of patients on the ward who were awaiting scans. I was asked if I minded coming back about 2.30. I had to go to the Day Surgery Unit for a pre-op assessment anyway plus it gave me time to get into town and visit the shops so it was no bother.

By the time I returned there was a patient in the scanner and another from the ward just having her injection. Around 3.00 pm I was taken through fully dressed. The scanner itself was against the wall. It was shaped a bit like a CT scanner (square with a hole in the centre) and took up most of the room height and width wise and the height and width could be adjusted according to the pictures they were taking and the proximity to the area needed. I had to lie on the table with my right arm outstretched and resting on a stool, which would be the position I would be in during surgery they told me. The scanner had various attachments, some like a robot arm, which could be used for taking pictures of different areas. The scan took about 30 minutes in total and consisted of several different pictures. The first was of my whole chest. A film plate was inserted into one of the attachment arms, which then came down to within a couple of inches of my chest and the first pictures were taken. Next a picture was taken diagonally from the right of my chest followed by one to the left of my chest. A plate was then inserted under the table for another set of films and finally a curved rectangular plate was attached to the side of the table and another set of films taken after which I was told I could go.

The wee didn’t turn aquamarine until 30 hours later, but was quite spectacular!