Lymph Node Surgery

What is lymph node surgery?

The lymph nodes are small bean-shapes glands that play a role in the body’s immune system. They filter substances that travel through the lymphatic fluid and may enlarge in response to an infection. Lymph node surgery, also known as a lymphadenectomy or lymph node dissection, is done to remove one or more of the lymph nodes.

When is this surgery needed?

Since cancer cells can travel to other parts of the body via the bloodstream or the lymph system, cancer may end up in the lymph nodes. Surgery for the lymph nodes may be done to do a biopsy and check whether or not cancer has spread to a lymph node, to plan treatment. If tests show that lymph nodes are found to have cancer in them, then the removal of the lymph nodes is generally indicated to prevent the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. Sentinal lymph node biopsy is a special biopsy done for certain cancers, especially breast cancer and melanoma (skin cancer) to see if cancer has spread to the nodes.

How is surgery done?

Depending on the type of procedure, the anaesthetic you will have may vary. For a biopsy, you may have local anaesthesia but to remove one or more lymph nodes, you will be put under general anaesthesia. Some lymph nodes are located near the surface of the body, while others are deep in and around the organs. For those undergoing a sentinel biopsy of the lymph nodes, a tracer known as MagTrace is sometimes used during your operation to highlight the nearest lymph node to the cancer and pinpoint the related lymph nodes. This tracer is non-radiative, easier and more cost-effective for patients than the regular radioactive tracer.

For those who have tested positive for cancer in the lymph nodes, lymphadenectomy may be done to remove the lymph nodes. While surgery may differ depending on the location of the lymph nodes. In some cases, depending on the location, Dr Ross may have a plastic surgeon involved.

What can I expect after surgery?

You can expect to be in some pain after waking from anaesthesia, or once the local anaesthetic wears off. Dr Ross will prescribe some pain relief medications for you should you need them. Once discharged, be sure to contact Dr Ross should any signs of infection such as fever, wound issues and vomiting. If a biopsy was done, you can expect to hear back about your results in a few days, and you may need to book your follow-up appointment with Dr Ross. Most lymph node surgery requires the insertion of a drain after the operation to removed excess fluid and prevent a collection known as a seroma. This drain can be in anywhere from a few days to 2 weeks.


parallax background

Better is possible. It does not take genius. It takes diligence.
It takes moral clarity. It takes ingenuity. And above all, it takes
a willingness to try.

Atul Gawande, Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance


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