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Breast Cancer Surgery – Lymph Node Dissection and Reconstruction

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There is a lot of planning, tests and research that goes into making sure all the cancer cells is contained and removed once a patient is diagnosed. One of the things a patient may undergo, depending how invasive their cancer is, may be a lymph node removal.

What is it?

Lymph nodes act as a filter for the body, especially when it comes to ridding the body of such attackers like viruses and bacteria. There may be several kinds of nodes at risk, ones located around the collarbone and under the arm. Doctors will make careful examination of these nodes before suggesting removal.

Lymph Node Surgery Risks

There are several risks after lymph node surgery:

Decreased sensation in the armpit and in the back of the arm – this can be temporary, but for some, it is not.

Tingling, numbness, stiffness, weakness or swelling of arm – physical therapy usually can decrease this side effect.

Swelling in veins located underarm – this can be alleviated with aspirin in most cases. In extreme circumstances, a clot can form.

Winged scapula or shoulder blade – this is rare, but it happens nonetheless, especially when motor nerves are damaged. This condition is especially evident when the patient holds their arms out, resulting in the sharp protrusion of the shoulder blade.

Infection of incision – most times, however; this is caught early by the attending physician and is cleared away by medication.


If a patient is going to have a breast reconstruction or even a lumpectomy procedure, it is strongly recommended that they talk to their doctor about plans for reconstruction. Some are just getting their head around the fact that they have cancer and feel that they can’t even think about more surgery – which is a good point. But still, do not quickly put away this idea.

The reason for having breast reconstruction may differ with each person – their lifestyle, occupation and personality is a factor. It is important to stop and think: How important is re-creating my breast to me? Can I live with a prosthetic? Or is surgical reconstruction needed so I feel like myself again?

Add a Comment2 Comments

Good point. I appreciate you writing in. Thanks so much.

July 6, 2010 - 11:34am
EmpowHER Guest

I understand that an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure, but the thing is that no one knows for sure just how far out we are from finding a cure. In the mean time though, I think it's more important to focus on the tasks at hand - for instance, methods of treatment for those who already have it. Having survived breast cancer myself, I found it a little frustrating that there was this relatively huge amount of support for breast cancer research, and little for those who are currently suffering. It's not that I don't appreciate all these donation commercials and pink ribbon stickers for your car and what not, but those do nothing for the ones like me, who have already undergone treatment, and are now focusing on breast reconstruction and getting their lives back.

July 6, 2010 - 10:32am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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