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Care of the Breast Cancer Patient

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  of Breast Cancer
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Care of the Breast Cancer Patient

Axillary 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 node dissection?
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, please call us at 847-797-9000.

 
 
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