Lymph nodes are an essential filtering system for the body’s lymphatic system, which is a system of vessels responsible for the collection of fluids from different cells to be filtered and delivered back into the blood.

The first nodes in the armpit region (axilla) to be affected by breast cancer are known as sentinel nodes. If a surgeon performs a biopsy and discovers that cancer has spread to nodes within the axillary area, then they may suggest you undergo an axillary dissection.

If only one or two sentinel nodes are cancerous, then it may not be necessary to have a axillary node dissection.
The dissection of axillary nodes can take place at three levels:

  • Level I – This is the removal of the entire tissue below the axillary vein and extends to the area whether the axillary vein intersects with the tendon of the muscle known as latissimus dorsi
  • Level II – This entails the lymph nodes found below the chest wall muscles
  • Level III – It’s the most aggressive dissection that involves the removal of the entire nodal tissue from the axillary area

Every person has a varying number of lymph nodes in the body. Thus, the decision regarding the how many nodes should be removed depends on the number rather than location.
Often, an axillary dissection involves the removal of level I and II nodes.

Recovery
After the axillary dissection, you may experience the following:

  • Weakness
  • The shoulder area may feel stiff and sore for a couple of days
  • Difficulty moving the shoulder and arm in all directions. Your physician or physical therapist will guide you through safe arm exercises
  • Swelling in the affected arm; a condition known as lymphedema. But this will subside over time
  • You may have a scar under the arm that will disappear within weeks. You may feel a lump in the armpit along with a burning or tingling sensation

All these symptoms will fade with time and you may resume your normal routine after three to six weeks. The exact duration depends on the type of tasks you do.

Your doctor will provide proper guidance on how long you should wait before resuming work plus give you home care instructions to follow after the procedure.

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, seek medical help early. Our breast cancer experts can help, schedule an appointment today.