Axillary Surgery

Cancer spreads to lymph nodes in the armpit more frequently than anywhere else. The presence of cancer in these nodes is therefore a predictor of the potential to spread elsewhere.

In most cases of invasive cancer, surgery to the axilla will be recommended. This can take one of three forms:

  • Sentinel node biopsy, where the first draining node from the tumour is identified with dye and isotope and removed.
  • Sampling, where the first 3-4 nodes are removed.
  • Axillary Dissection where the nodes are removed anatomically in levels from 1 up to 3.

The surgery is usually uneventful but the side effects can be a problem later which is why there are currently moves to less aggressive dissection.

Following axillary surgery it is common to place a drain, which is often the reason the hospital stay is over one day. The alternative is to go home with the drain, which is likely to become standard shortly.