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Chapter: 6 - Treatment

Subchapter: 6 - Lymph Node Removal

In addition to your surgical procedure, your doctor may wish to remove and examine lymph nodes; this is to determine whether the cancer has spread and to what extent. Your doctor will perform a Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy and/or an Axillary Node Dissection. Let’s discuss both methods.

Sentinel Lymph Nodes and Sentinel Node Biopsy
While it is not easily controlled, the spread of cancer is sometimes predictable. The cancer cells spread through a customary path, out from the tumor and into the surrounding lymph nodes, before they progress throughout the body.

To be able to identify the sentinel lymph node, the surgeon will inject dye or a radioactive tracer into the tissue near the tumor; the lymph nodes that are the most susceptible to the cancer’s spread will be marked by the dye or a radioactive tracer. During surgery, the lymph nodes will be removed and checked for the presence of cancer cells.

Axillary Node Dissection
To determine if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, examinations can be performed with ultrasound and more carefully by removing one or more of the first draining lymph nodes with sentinel lymph node biopsy. Patients with a tumor that has spread to these lymph nodes may require complete removal of the lymph nodes in the armpit, a procedure known as an axillary lymph node dissection. An axillary dissection is generally performed subsequent to a sentinel lymph node biopsy, unless a woman has had a positive fine needle aspirate of a lymph node.

A mastectomy or lumpectomy operation often includes a sentinel node biopsy and/or an axillary node dissection; both procedures involve a separate incision for lumpectomy patients. Following surgery, the pathologist will test the lymph nodes to determine whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.

Removing lymph nodes raises your risk for developing Lymphedema, a condition that may cause abnormal swelling of the arm, breast, axilla, or chest wall on the side of your cancer. Swelling up to one month after surgery is not unusual and does not indicate the presence of lymphedema. However, if you experience new or persistent swelling in these areas after one month has elapsed since your surgery, you should notify your doctor.

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Breast cancer affects one out of every eight women in their lifetime.

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