Axillary Node Surgery
When cancer cells begin to spread from the breast, the first place they are usually found is in the lymph nodes in the armpit. If you are having surgery for breast cancer, your surgeon will probably remove one or some of your lymph nodes to determine if they also contain cancer cells. Knowing whether or not the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes will help your doctor to determine the best treatment options for you.
There are two ways of removing lymph nodes:
- Axillary dissection (also known as axillary clearance). This involves removing several, or all, lymph nodes from the armpit. This is usually done at the same time as the breast cancer surgery.
- Sentinel node biopsy. This involves injecting a dye into your breast to determine which lymph node/s it spreads to first. This is known as the sentinel node. The surgeon removes the sentinel node/s during the breast cancer surgery and they are tested by a pathologist to determine if cancer cells are present. If they are cancer free, other nodes are unlikely to be affected and therefore do not need to be removed. If cancer is found in the sentinel nodes, you may have further surgery to remove some or all of the remaining nodes. In a small number of cases, the sentinel node is unable to be identified and an axillary dissection will be undertaken.
It can be a good idea to talk to your surgeon about the possible removal of lymph nodes during your surgery and which procedure will be right for you.
Having your lymph nodes removed can increase your risk of developing a condition called lymphoedema. Lymphoedema is a swelling in the breast or arm.