Also Referred to as: Lymph node dissection; completion dissection; ALND
A surgical procedure to remove lymph nodes from under the arm to find out if they have cancer cells in them. In the operating room, after you are asleep, the surgeon will make an incision under the arm and remove most of the lymph nodes from that area. A surgical drain is then placed beneath the arm on the side of surgery to remove fluid and allow your body time to heal.
Most people can go home the same day. Your stay may be longer if other procedures are being done at the same time (i.e. mastectomy, reconstruction).
Your surgeon will discuss specific recovery issues with you. In general, you will be up and moving the day after surgery, with some limitations to your normal schedule and exercise routine in the first week or so. A surgical drain, placed at the time of surgery, is used to remove fluid that builds up after this procedure. It is placed under the arm on the side of surgery and stays in for approximately 7-10 days. When ready, it is removed in the office, a quick and often painless procedure. You will be given instructions on how to take care of the drain at home. After surgery, you could experience any of the following:
If you have a post-surgical bandage, remove per your surgeon's instructions (often within 48 hours). Once the bandage is removed, you may shower but do not scrub the incision. To dry, carefully pat the incision with a clean towel. Avoid lotions, powders or deodorant on or near the incision during the first 1-2 weeks until it is fully closed.
Most surgeons use dissolvable sutures so you won't see any sutures and they don't need to be removed. On the outside, some surgeons use surgical glue over the incision to give added protection, others use paper tape called "steri-strips," while some use nothing at all. Both glue and steri-strips can get wet in the shower.
Walking is good. Take rest periods throughout the day as needed. Move your arm on the side of surgery as naturally as possible; do not feel as if you have to guard the area.
Deep breathing and relaxation are important to help with pain, keep lungs healthy after anesthesia and promote good drainage of lymphatic fluid. Try to perform deep breathing and relaxation exercises several times a day in the first week, or whenever you notice you are particularly tense.
This hand-out provides general information only. Please be sure to discuss the specifics of your surgical plan and recovery with your surgeon.