What is lymphoscintigraphy?

When someone is diagnosed with breast cancer, many imaging studies and tests may be required to fully diagnose the disease and determine the stage of the cancer.One of these tests is lymphography.

Lymphoscintigraphy is also known as lymph node mapping. It is an imaging procedure that finds the location of lymph nodes and the pattern of lymphatic drainage. This helps determine the location of sentinel lymph nodes, which are the lymph nodes closest to the breast cancer tumor. A biopsy of this lymph node is usually needed to see if any cancer cells are present.

This article will review the purpose of testing, the risks associated with it, how testing is performed, and what the results mean.

Testing purposes

Lymphoscintigraphy is often used in patients with early-stage breast cancer because studies have shown it to be very effective. Although it is also used to identify other diseases, it has been shown to be particularly useful for breast cancer.

In the case of breast cancer, sentinel lymph nodes are the first evidence that cancer cells have spread from the breast. Lymphoscintigraphy can identify these lymph nodes and detect which ones are cancer-free. This is important for determining the type of treatment needed for breast cancer.

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Risks and Contraindications

The risks associated with lymphoscintigraphy are generally small.

This is a nuclear medicine procedure, which means you will be exposed to very small amounts of radiation. Radiation exposure during lymphoscintigraphy is about the same amount someone would get when exposed to natural radiation over a five-week period.

Allergic reactions to the radiotracer that will be injected are rare. If they do occur, they are usually mild. Still, make sure you let your healthcare provider and technician know if you’ve ever had an allergic reaction or other problem with a similar test.

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The injection may cause redness and mild pain, which usually goes away quickly.

Lymphoscintigraphy is not recommended for all people with breast cancer. Contraindications include:

  • pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • inflammatory breast cancer
  • Breast tumors larger than 5 cm
  • multiple breast tumors
  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a condition in which cancer cells grow inside the breast
  • High body mass index (BMI)
  • elderly

before testing

Be sure to arrive early to check in before your appointment time. It’s also a good idea to use the bathroom first.


The length of the test varies from about 30 minutes to two hours or more, depending on several factors. Be sure to ask in advance how long you expect to take.


You may get lymphoscintigraphy in an outpatient clinic or clinic, but some hospitals also offer it.

what to wear

Depending on where you are going for this test, you may be asked to wear a medical gown, or just your own clothes. It is recommended that you wear comfortable clothing without metal snaps or buttons. Before this procedure, remove any jewelry or accessories that contain metal.


You do not have to restrict your diet before or after lymphoscintigraphy.

Fees and Health Insurance

If you have health insurance, check with your carrier about whether lymphoscintigraphy will be covered and how much you will pay out of pocket. Also, check if the facility that will execute it is overridden.

Your healthcare provider’s office and facility should be able to provide you with cost information.

what to bring

Make sure you have your insurance card and any documents your healthcare provider may have given you.

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During the test

Once you are recalled, you will have time to change into your gown (if necessary). You may be asked to confirm information such as your name, date of birth and planned tests. The nurse will prepare you, and then a healthcare provider or technician will perform the procedure.


You will be asked to lie down on the examination table. Your nurse may insert an intravenous (IV) line into your arm as needed. The necessary radioactive material may be given by multiple injections around the tumor or areola.

Aside from needle and IV placement, lymphoscintigraphy is completely painless. After the injection, you may feel cool, but it should not be uncomfortable.

throughout the test

Special cameras that detect radiotracers will take images of your breasts. Depending on the clinic, you may be asked to change your location to get images of different areas.

The hardest part of the show is that you have to stay still while taking the image. The more you can follow the instructions on when not to move, the faster the process will be.

after test

After the test is complete, you may be asked to wait to check the image to make sure everything is sharp enough. If not, you may need to redo some of them. Otherwise, you can get dressed and leave.

after test

You shouldn’t have any lingering side effects to manage, and you can usually return to your normal daily life right away. In rare cases, your healthcare provider may advise you to rest after the fact. They will advise you on this before you leave.

It is recommended that you drink more water than usual to help your body flush out radioactive material.

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Interpret the results

A radiologist or healthcare provider who specializes in nuclear medicine will review the images and send a report to your oncologist. Your healthcare provider’s office should contact you about the results and whether any follow-up is required.

follow up

Information from lymphoscintigraphy will help your healthcare provider determine the extent of your surgery. Make sure you understand the results and what they mean to you. Please ask questions if anything is unclear.


Lymphoscintigraphy is a common procedure used to help stage breast cancer. During this test, a special dye is injected into the breast tissue. A special machine then looks at how the dye travels to nearby lymph nodes to help find the first lymph node to leave the breast. This lymph node can then be examined to see if any cancer cells are present.

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Because the test is the least risky for most people and prevents surgery you may not need, it’s a common recommendation. At this point you may be tired of medical tests and scans, but know that the information obtained with lymphoscintigraphy is often not available any other way – it can save you the pain of unnecessary surgery and recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How painful is lymphoscintigraphy?

    Lymphoscintigraphy can be uncomfortable because a needle is used to inject dye into breast tissue. Otherwise, the rest of the procedure is painless.

  • Is lymphography safe?

    Yes, lymphoscintigraphy is a safe procedure. The test does involve exposure to small amounts of radiation. This amount is similar to the amount of radiation a person would naturally receive from the environment in about five weeks.