Axillary dissection is a surgical procedure to remove lymph nodes from the axilla (armpit).
Lymph nodes filter bacteria and cancer cells from tissue fluid. Groups of lymph nodes are found
in the neck, axilla (armpit), groin, chest and abdomen.
Removal of the lymph nodes can cause a build up of fluid at the site of the wound (a seroma) or
within the whole limb (lymphoedema). Loss of the lymph nodes and swelling make the arm
more susceptible to infection.
An axillary dissection is performed to remove all the lymph nodes that may have cancer within
them. This prevents the cancer from recurring within the armpit and may stop the cancer from
A general anaesthetic (GA) is required. The operation takes about 3 hours plus time to have the
anaesthetic. A long curved incision is made within the armpit; all the lymph nodes and
surrounding fatty tissue are removed. All the tissue that is removed is sent for analysis. These results will be available after a few weeks.
The wound is sutured with dissolving sutures and one or two drains are left in place. The drains
siphon off excess fluid and may remain for many weeks until the fluid gradually reduces
More than 50% of patients will have problems with infection, wound healing or collection of fluid.
Tiredness - you will feel rather tired after the operation and for the next few weeks. Gradually return to normal activities over 4-6 weeks.
Wound care - you may shower after 48 hours and remove the outer dressing (Nurses will assist with this). Showering is better than bathing. The tape on your wound (Micropore) should be patted dry or dried with a hair dryer on cool (to avoid burns).
Drains - are left in place until they drain less than 40 mls per day. Some times you will go home with the drains in place. Nursing staff will teach you how to look after them and district nurses will come to your house to monitor the drainage and change bottles if needed.
Seroma - if a collection of fluid (seroma) develops after the drains comes out then please call my secretary for a time to have the fluid drained away. This is done by using a small needle, fortunately this area is usually has reduced sensation and is not especially painful.
Mobilization - I encourage you to get out of bed as soon as you feel able to do so – usually the day after surgery. Please allow the nursing staff to help you initially, as you may be unsteady on your feet.
Shoulder exercises – you will be given a series of exercises to perform to prevent and treat shoulder stiffness.
Driving - you will be able to start driving when you feel that you can safely control a motor vehicle. For most people this is about 4 weeks post surgery. It is advisable to check with your insurance company before driving.
Everyday activities - you will need help at home for about 4 weeks with activities such as
cooking, laundry and housework.
Take extra care to avoid insect bites, scratches or other trauma to your arm. Clean any wound carefully and watch for any early signs of infection such as swelling, redness and pain. If these occur then please call your GP. Avoid blood tests on that arm.
Pain not controlled with painkillers
Increasing redness of wound
Profuse oozing or bleeding from wound
High temperature (unconnected to cold or flu or another cause)
Offensive odour from the wound dressings