Lymph Node Removal (Lymphadenectomy)

What is Lymph Node Removal (Lymphadenectomy)?

Lymph node removal is a surgical procedure to take out one or more of your lymph nodes. Your doctor may recommend you have this procedure if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer.

There are two main reasons for removing lymph nodes:

. If you have cancer, one or more lymph nodes may be removed to check whether it has spread. Knowing this helps your doctor plan the best treatment for you.

. If tests have shown that the cancer has reached your lymph nodes, you may have them taken out to remove the cancer. This helps to reduce the chance of your cancer coming back.

Here we’ll give a general overview of lymph node removal. Your experience may be different depending on the type of cancer you have and your individual circumstances.

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Before Lymph Node Removal (Lymphadenectomy)

What are lymph nodes?

Lymph nodes are small, kidney bean-shaped organs found throughout your body, including your armpits, neck and groin. They are part of the lymphatic system. This is a network of thin tubes that carries a clear fluid called lymph from around your cells to your bloodstream. Your lymph nodes help to fight infection and filter lymph fluid. They trap any bacteria and waste products in lymph and destroy old or abnormal cells, such as cancer cells.

Many types of cancer spread through the lymphatic system and nearby lymph nodes are one of the first places they spread to. So, taking out a lymph node to check for cancer cells can be a good way to show if your cancer has spread.

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Medical terms used in lymph node removal

You may hear a number of different medical terms used when describing lymph node removal. Here are some of the most common ones and what they mean.

. Lymphadenectomy – the medical term for lymph node removal.

. Lymph node (excision) biopsy – just one node is removed to check for cancer cells.

. Sentinel lymph node – this is the first lymph node your cancer is likely to spread to.

. Sentinel lymph node biopsy – removal of the sentinel lymph node. See our FAQ below for more information on sentinel lymph node biopsy.

. Lymph node dissection (or clearance) – this is when many lymph nodes are taken out together. An example is axillary lymph node dissection for breast cancer. In this procedure, your surgeon removes a number of lymph nodes from your armpit (axilla).

Preparing for lymph node removal

Your hospital will give you information about your procedure, including how to prepare for it. You’ll probably be invited to a pre-admission assessment clinic at the hospital a week or two before the date of your operation. A nurse will check your general health and may do some tests, including blood tests.

If you smoke, you’ll be asked to make every effort to stop before your procedure. This is because smoking increases your risk of getting a chest and wound infection, which can slow down your recovery.

If you’re going to have a general anaesthetic, your hospital will give you clear instructions on when to stop eating and drinking. This is usually from around six hours before your procedure – but always follow the advice you’re given.

Your nurse or surgeon will discuss with you what will happen before, during and after your procedure, including any pain you might have. If you’re unsure about anything, don’t be afraid to ask. No question is too small. It’s important that you feel fully informed so you’re happy to give your consent for the procedure to go ahead. You’ll be asked to do this by signing a consent form.

Your nurse will prepare you for your operation. You may be asked to wear compression stockings, which help prevent blood clots forming in the veins in your legs.

Side-effects of lymph node removal

Like all procedures, lymph node removal can cause some side-effects, but these are mostly temporary. After having your lymph nodes removed, you may have:

. Pain, swelling and bruising

. Stiffness and reduced movement

Complications of lymph node removal

Complications are when problems occur during or after the operation. Complications of having your lymph nodes removed can include:

. An infection in your wound – this may mean you need antibiotics

. A build-up of fluid in the lymph node area (seroma) – this usually goes within a few weeks but your surgeon may need to drain it

. Injury to nerves near the site of your operation – this may make your skin feel numb

a slow build-up of fluid causing swelling in the affected arm or leg over months or years – this is called lymphoedema; for more information on this, see our section on long-term effects below

Long-term effects of lymph node removal – lymphoedema

If you have one or more lymph nodes removed, there is a risk of some long-term effects. One of these is a condition called lymphoedema, which is swelling of part of your body due to poor drainage of lymph fluid. It can affect any part of your body but often happens in your arm or leg. You’re more likely to develop this condition if you have several lymph nodes removed and had radiotherapy treatment for cancer afterwards.

Lymphoedema happens when your lymphatic system can’t transport lymph fluid around your body properly. Having surgery to remove lymph nodes can disrupt your lymphatic system, and cause a build-up of lymph. The lymph may collect in your tissues and cause swelling. The waste products contained in the blocked lymph can add to the swelling in surrounding tissues.

You’ll continue to be at risk of developing lymphoedema for the rest of your life after having lymph nodes removed. But there are many things you can do to keep this risk as low as possible, and it’s important that you do these. They range from keeping healthy by exercising and eating a healthy diet to looking after your skin, wearing compression stockings, and attending follow-up medical appointments with your doctor.

During Lymph Node Removal (Lymphadenectomy)

What happens during lymph node removal?

The anaesthetic you have will depend on exactly what procedure you’re having. Although you can have a local anaesthetic for some procedures, if you’re having many lymph nodes removed, you’ll probably have general anaesthesia. This means you’ll be asleep during the procedure.

Exactly what happens next will depend on a number of things, including how many lymph nodes are being removed and where they are. Your surgeon will explain beforehand what your operation will involve.

If you’re having a sentinel lymph node biopsy, you may have a scan before your operation to help your surgeon find the sentinel node.

In most cases, your surgeon will make a small cut in the affected area and identify the lymph nodes they are going to remove. They’ll then carefully remove them and possibly some other tissue nearby that may have cancer cells. Your surgeon may use a fine tube (drain) to drain fluid from your wound. The drain may be left in place for a few days. Finally, your surgeon will close the cut with dissolvable stitches, non-dissolvable stitches or staples.

Sometimes it’s possible to have keyhole surgery instead. In keyhole surgery, your surgeon will make a small cut (or cuts) and pass surgical instruments (including a camera) through these. They’ll use images on a monitor to see your lymph nodes and remove them.

After surgery, your lymph nodes will be sent to a laboratory to see if there are any cancer cells in them.

After Lymph Node Removal (Lymphadenectomy)

Aftercare for lymph node removal

How long you need to stay in hospital depends on the type of lymph node removal operation you had. You might be able to go home the same day or you may need to stay longer. Ask your surgeon how long you’ll need to stay in hospital for.

If you had a local anaesthetic, you’ll need to take it easy until feeling returns to the area. Be careful not to bump the affected area. Similarly, if you had a general anaesthetic, you’ll need to rest until all the effects wear off. You might have some discomfort as this happens, but you’ll be offered pain relief.

If you had a general anaesthetic and are able to go home the same day, you’ll need to arrange for someone to drive you home. This is a good idea even if you had a local anaesthetic. Try to have a friend or relative stay with you for the first 24 hours after you get home.

Having a general anaesthetic affects everyone differently and in ways you may not expect. You might find that you’re not so coordinated or that it’s difficult to think clearly. This should pass within 24 hours. In the meantime, don’t drive, drink alcohol, operate machinery or sign anything important. Always follow your surgeon’s advice.

You’ll be given advice about caring for a surgical wound before you go home, as well as a date for a follow-up appointment.

If you have a drain from your wound, it will usually be removed after a few days. You might be able to go home with the drain in place. A practice nurse at your GP surgery or a district nurse may then visit you at home to remove it. You’ll have a dressing covering your wound. Your nurse or surgeon will tell you when you can remove this.

If your surgeon used dissolvable stitches to close your cut, these won’t need to be removed. They will dissolve completely within a week to three months depending on which type your surgeon used. If you had non-dissolvable stitches or staples, you’ll need to have these removed 10 days to two weeks after your operation.

It may take up to two weeks for the laboratory test results to come back. Results are usually sent to the doctor who requested your procedure. The results will tell your doctor if cancer cells were found in your lymph nodes. Your doctor will talk to you about your results at your follow-up appointment.

Recovering from lymph node removal

If you need pain relief, you can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.

How long it will take to recover and get back to normal after lymph node removal surgery will vary depending on your circumstances. Ask your surgeon when you’re likely to be able to get back to your usual activities, including returning to work. Check if there are any restrictions on what you can do for a while – for instance, strenuous exercise or heavy lifting. Always follow your surgeon’s advice.



How long does lymph node removal surgery take?

You will probably be able to go back to work or your normal routine in 3 to 6 weeks. It will also depend on the type of work you do and any further treatment. You may be able to take showers (unless you have a drain in your incision) 24 to 48 hours after surgery.

Why are lymph nodes removed?

Examining your lymph nodes helps your doctors figure out the extent of cancer involvement. Cancer in the lymph nodes is associated with an increased risk of having cancer cells in other parts of your body. … Surgery to remove some or all of the lymph nodes under your arm is called axillary lymph node dissection

What happens when lymph nodes are removed from armpit?

Lymph node surgery can lead to uncomfortable temporary side effects, such as lymph backup in the armpit, called seroma. … Finally, the more surgery a woman has in the breast/armpit area, the more potential there is for numbness, heightened sensitivity, and discomfort

Is it dangerous to have lymph nodes removed?

Like all procedures, lymph node removal can cause some side-effects but these are mostly temporary. After having your lymph nodes removed, you may have: pain, swelling and bruising.

Does having lymph nodes removed affect your immune system?

If you had lymph nodes removed, your immune system may not work as well on that side of your body. The more lymph nodes and vessels you had taken out, the greater the potential impact

How long does pain last after lymph node removal?

You may have some mild swelling in your arm right after your surgery. This swelling may last for up to 6 weeks, but it’s temporary and will gradually go away. You may also feel pain or other sensations, such as twinges and tingling, after your surgery.

Is lymph node removal outpatient?

It’s typically an outpatient procedure, which means you don’t have to stay overnight at the facility. With a lymph node biopsy, your doctor may remove the entire lymph node, or take a tissue sample from the swollen lymph node

How long does it take to heal from lymph node removal in groin?

This is usually after around four weeks. You should check with your insurance company before returning to driving, as your cover may be affected. The majority of patients recover well and return to work and normal activities after about four to six weeks.

What is cording after lymph node removal?

Cording after breast surgery. AWS is usually a side effect that occurs after surgery to remove a sentinel lymph node or multiple lymph nodes from the area of your underarm. This procedure is most often done in relation to breast cancer treatment and surgeries.

What is the survival rate of lymph node cancer?

The one-year survival rate for all patients diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma is about 92 percent. The five-year survival rate is about 86 percent

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