Lymph nodes move and filter fluids between body tissues and the bloodstream. Because of this, cancer cells often spread to the lymph nodes. An axillary lymph node dissection is surgery to remove lymph nodes from under your arm.
This surgery is usually done during your lumpectomy or mastectomy. During this surgery, your doctor will remove lymph nodes that have cancer and those that cancer could easily spread to. This surgery reduces the chance that the cancer could come back. It also helps your doctor plan further treatment for you.
After the surgery, you may go home the same day. Or you may need to spend the night at the hospital. You will probably be able to go back to work or your normal routine in 3 to 6 weeks. This depends on the type of work you do and any other treatment you may need.
After your lymph nodes are removed, you will be at greater risk for swelling in your arm. This is called lymphedema. You will have to take good care of your affected arm. Wear loose sleeves and bracelets. Don't carry heavy things with that arm. Your doctor or physiotherapist can teach you arm exercises. Doing these can help you move your arm as you always have.
This surgery may be done at the same time as other breast surgeries. If this is the case, how you prepare may be different.
When you find out that you have cancer, you may feel many emotions and may need some help coping. Seek out family, friends, and counsellors for support. You also can do things at home to make yourself feel better while you go through treatment. Call the Canadian Cancer Society (1-888-939-3333) or visit its website at www.cancer.ca for more information.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.
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Current as of: March 28, 2018
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
& Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Laura S. Dominici, MD - Surgery, General Surgery, Oncology
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