Lymph Node Dissection
Why is it important to evaluate
the lymph nodes?
The lymph system is an important
defense mechanism in your body’s fight against
infection. It is made up of lymph vessels and
nodes. The lymph vessels are found throughout
your body and collect protein and fluid from surrounding
tissues. Lymph nodes act as a filter to trap bacteria,
viruses, cancer cells, and other unwanted substances.
The axillary (underarm) lymph nodes are the lymph
nodes that drain and filter fluid from the arm
and chest areas.
What is an axillary lymph
An axillary lymph node dissection
is the surgical removal of the lymph nodes under
the arm. This procedure is done to determine if
the cancer has spread beyond the breast. If there
is cancer in the lymph nodes, it will influence
additional treatment decisions.
Does everyone with breast
cancer have an axillary lymph node dissection?
Patients with very early breast
cancers that are limited to the ducts such as
ductal carcinoma in situ (a noninvasive cancer)
may not require an axillary dissection. Patients
who have undergone a sentinel lymph node biopsy
in which the sentinel node is negative usually
do not require a lymph node dissection.
What are the risks of an
axillary lymph node dissection?
As with any surgery there is
a risk of bleeding, infection, and poor wound
healing. Fluid or blood could accumulate around
the breast or underarm area and require drainage.
Numbness and tingling in the underarm and arm
can occur due to nerves being cut during surgery.
Most women get a significant amount of sensation
back, but it may not be 100 percent. Muscle tightness
of the underarm can occur, this usually improves
with time. Lymphedema, or swelling of the arm
can occur weeks, months or years after surgery.
How will I look and feel
after the axillary lymph node dissection?
You will have an incision in
the underarm area. Initially there will be some
discomfort. You will have one or several drains,
each with a plastic balloon at the end, which
will collect fluid from the armpit as it is healing.
The drain, or drains, will stay in place for approximately
one week. You will be taught how to empty and
record the drainage. After the drains are removed,
we will show you some easy exercises to improve
the mobility of your arm.
For more information or concerns,
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