Procedures: Axillary Node Dissection

After this surgery you will have an incision under the arm and a plastic drainage tube (a Jackson Pratt Drain). This drainage tube will be connected to a plastic bulb which will collect fluid from the operative site. The drain will need to stay in place until the fluid stops draining, usually about a week after surgery. It is important to empty the drain bulb periodically and record the amount of drainage. When you return to the office for your post-operative check, the doctor will review your drainage record and decide if it is time for the drain to be removed. Once the drain has been removed the body will usually absorb any remaining fluid. We will arrange for a visiting nurse to come to your home for a day or two after your operation to assist you with the drain care until you and your family or caregiver are comfortable taking care of it yourselves. If you wish, you may take a shower with the drainage tube in place. Remove dressings prior to showering and replace any bandages around the drain site after drying off.

After the drainage tube is removed some persons get swelling in the area. If the area of swelling is small it will probably resolve on its own. If there is a large amount of fluid accumulated it may need to be drained when you return to the office. Infections in this area are rare but if you have increasing pain, redness, swelling or fever, please call the office.

It is common to have numbness under the arm and extending down the arm to the elbow after this surgery. Some persons also experience a tingling or burning sensation in this area. Most of these sensations will eventually go away but may take up to 4-6 weeks to resolve. Most of the time there is an area of permanent numbness in the axilla itself.

Lymphedema, or swelling of the arm and hand on the side of the surgery, occurs about 20% of the time after this type of surgery. It is currently not possible to predict who will get this complication, but there are ways to keep it under control. The symptoms of this complication include pain, achiness or heaviness of the arm and swelling. If you notice any of these please call the office.

It is common for the arm and shoulder on the side of the surgery to be stiff and sore and to have a limited range of motion. For the first week after the surgery, please try to stretch the arm as far as you can in all directions. You will have pain when you do this but you will not cause any injury to yourself. Your doctor will tell you when it is time to begin further exercise to regain the full range of motion of your arm and shoulder.