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Complete Axillary Lymph Node Dissection

    • Lymph nodes

    • Lymph nodes are small bean-shaped structures that run close to your vascular system (arteries and veins) and are part of the lymphatic system running throughout your body. An important part of your immune system, this elaborate network of vessels and nodes helps fight infection and clean up waste products made by the body. However, if cancer cells invade these lymph nodes, they can spread to other parts of the body. The lymph vessels in the breast drain into the lymph nodes under the arm (the axilla). If cancer cells are found in these lymph nodes during a node biopsy, additional treatments may be recommended.

    • Complete axillary lymph node dissection

    • breastA complete axillary lymph node dissection may be recommended, rather than a sentinel node biopsy, if the surgeon's exam or a biopsy shows a suspicious or a cancerous lymph node in the axilla (armpit). An axillary lymph node dissection is usually done at the same time as the breast surgery. Your surgeon will make a cut (incision) under your arm on the side the cancer was found. He or she will remove fatty tissue called the axillary fat pad, which contains lymph nodes. The number of lymph nodes found in the fat pad varies from person to person. After your surgery, a pathologist will remove the lymph nodes from the fat pad and examine them under a microscope to see if they contain cancer cells.

      You may notice numbness or tingling in the area under and at the back of your upper arm following an axillary lymph node dissection. Your arm and shoulder may also be tight and have limited range of motion immediately after surgery. This should get better soon. There are specific exercises to help with this stiffness. Throughout your lifetime, you will be at greater risk of developing a condition called lymphedema on the side where the lymph nodes were removed.

      Lymphedema is a painless chronic swelling of the hand and/or arm. It can affect as many as 20 percent of women who undergo complete axillary lymph node dissections. It is not life threatening, but it can limit movement, increase the chance of infection and change your body's appearance. Treatment to manage lymphedema is available through a lymphedema clinic.

      More Surgery Options
      Prophylactic mastectomy
      Sentinel lymph node biopsy