Lymph Node Dissection for Breast Cancer

Lymph Node Dissection for Breast Cancer

When breast cancer starts to spread, it will initially go to the lymph nodes under your armpit. These are also known as your axillary lymph nodes.

When your cancer is invasive there will be a need to find out if your axillary lymph nodes are affected. This affects the type of treatment you will receive post-surgery and also affects your prognosis.

Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy

The sentinel lymph node is the first lymph node that receives lymphatic drainage from breast. In invasive cancers your surgeon will remove a few of these nodes and send it for testing.

If there is cancer found in these nodes your surgeon will proceed to remove all of the other lymph nodes in the axilla. This is called an axillary lymph node dissection.

Axillary Lymph Node Dissection

Apart from the above scenario at times it is possible to tell if the axillary lymph nodes are cancerous even before the surgery. If this is the case your surgeon will likely perform the axillary lymph node dissection without going through the initial sentinel lymph node biopsy.

What happens during an Axillary Lymph Node Dissection?

This is performed under general anaesthesia and is done during the removal of the primary breast cancer.

The lymph nodes are usually removed though the same incision if you are undergoing a mastectomy. At times a separate incision in the underarm is made.

All the lymph nodes in the underarm area up to level II will be removed.These will be sent to a pathologist for further examination.

Once done, your surgeon will place a small tube to drain fluid, and the incision is closed with stitches.

Side effects of an Axillary Lymph Node Dissection

Numbness around the underarm area is common It may sometimes extend to the upper inner arm. This numbness is usually permanent.

There is also a risk of arm swelling, also known as lymphedema. This may happen in up to 15% of patients who have undergone this surgery. You should observe if your arm is heavier or larger than normal, if a fitted sleeve or wrist watch is tighter on the affected arm. See your surgeon early for these symptoms as intervention is generally more effective with a lesser degree of swelling.

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