Lymph Node Removal for Breast Cancer

Lymph Node Removal for Breast Cancer

Sentinel Node Biopsy, Axillary Lymph Node Dissection

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Lymph node removal surgery may be performed to determine if your breast cancer has spread beyond your breast. Duke breast cancer surgeons in Durham, Raleigh, and Cary use different methods to remove one or more lymph nodes from under your arm. Lymph node removal is an important step that will guide the treatment decisions your breast cancer team will discuss with you.

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Lymph Node Surgeries

There are two types of lymph node surgery. Each is performed for specific reasons. Your breast cancer surgeon will recommend the one that's right for your condition. Your surgeon will discuss with you the risks, including the risk of lymphedema, a potential side effect in which a buildup of fluid causes swelling in the arm. Our breast cancer surgeons use the latest techniques to remove lymph nodes -- whether during a biopsy, mastectomy, or lumpectomy -- in order to minimize these risks. 

Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy

Sentinel lymph node biopsy may be recommended when lymph nodes appear normal and seem unlikely to contain cancer cells. The breast surgeon injects a radioactive tracer and/or blue dye into the breast and observes the tracer’s path to identify the sentinel lymph nodes. These are the first ones that a breast tumor would drain into if your cancer has spread. The lymph nodes are removed and tested for cancer. This procedure requires fewer lymph nodes to be removed and dramatically reduces your chances of developing lymphedema.

Axillary Lymph Node Dissection

If the lymph nodes feel abnormal, or if a biopsy has shown the presence of cancer, your breast surgeon may remove 10 or more lymph nodes from under the arm. They are tested for cancer. Axillary lymph node dissection involves a longer recovery and higher risk of lymphedema.

Our Locations
Duke breast cancer centers are located in Durham, Raleigh, and Cary -- close to your home or work. Imaging, testing, and breast cancer treatments are available.

Why Choose Duke

Your Breast Cancer Care Is Our Top Priority
Our doctors work as a team, which means you will see several breast cancer specialists during your appointment. That goes a long way toward reducing unnecessary stress and anxiety. It also ensures you have all the information you need to make decisions about your care.

Coordination with Your Local Doctor, Second Opinions
If you seek care at Duke and continue with radiation or chemotherapy closer to home, our doctors will coordinate your treatment plan with your doctors. We also provide second opinions and share information with doctors near you.

Our Dedicated Breast Surgeons Only See Breast Patients
Many of our breast surgeons have undergone advanced fellowship training to treat diseases of the breast, including breast cancer. Breast surgical oncologists who only see people with breast cancer often have the most experience treating your breast cancer. They draw upon the latest research findings to ensure you receive the best treatments available.

Duke Pathologists Specialize in Breast Cancer
Once lymph nodes are removed, the sample will be studied by an expert Duke pathologist who specializes in breast cancer. That is one of the benefits of being seen at a large breast cancer center like Duke. Our experts have years of experience and have dedicated their careers to diagnosing and treating breast cancer.

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Among the Best Cancer Hospitals in U.S.
Where you receive your cancer care is important. Duke University Hospital's cancer program is ranked among the nation's best by U.S. News & World Report for 2019–2020.
Reviewed: 05/30/2018