If you have invasive breast cancer, your surgeon will probably remove some of the lymph nodes under your arm during your lumpectomy or mastectomy. Examining your lymph nodes helps your doctors figure out the extent of cancer involvement. Cancer in the lymph nodes is associated with an increased risk of having cancer cells in other parts of your body.
Your lymph nodes act as filters for your body's lymphatic drainage system. That's why the lymph nodes are likely to "catch" or filter out cancer cells that might be floating in the fluid that drains away from the cancerous area of the breast. Doctors look at the different kinds of nodes that are involved with your breast:
- The nodes around your collarbone and neck (supraclavicular, infraclavicular, and cervical nodes) are examined manually (by hand). Your doctor will feel this area for signs of enlarged nodes.
- The nodes under your arm (axillary lymph nodes) are also examined manually and are relatively easy to get to during surgery. Surgery to remove some or all of the lymph nodes under your arm is called axillary lymph node dissection.
In this section:
- What Are "Lymph" and "Lymph Nodes"?
- Why Are Lymph Nodes Important?
- How Many Lymph Nodes Are Removed?
- Axillary Lymph Node Dissection
- Lymph Node Dissection: What to Expect
- Risk of Lymphedema
- Sentinel Lymph Node Dissection
"During the mastectomy, they took a couple of lymph nodes, which were negative. I feel like we really did catch it in situ, and that's a nice feeling."— Nancy
Can we help guide you?
Create a profile for better recommendations
Your Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Just as no two people are exactly alike, no two breast cancers are exactly the same, either. Your...
- How to Ease Aromatase Inhibitor-Related Pain
Managing Your Medical Records
Each doctor and medical facility you visit keeps a medical record for you that includes...
Mastectomy and Breast Reconstruction Video Series
If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, there are a number of surgical options for removing...
Tenacious D: I Was Strong; Cancer Made Me Stronger
“I want to make every woman diagnosed with breast cancer a rock star.” Dianne Wilson’s indigo...