Display Mode:

    Main content

    Health Information

    Breast Cancer: Lymph Node Surgery for Staging Cancer

    Breast Cancer: Lymph Node Surgery for Staging Cancer

    Skip to the navigation

    Topic Overview

    Axillary lymph nodes and where they are located

    Whether you have a mastectomy or breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy) for breast cancer , your doctors need to know whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes . Lymph node involvement increases the likelihood that cancer cells have spread through the bloodstream to other parts of the body. Women with some forms of very early breast cancer, such as ductal or lobular carcinoma in situ , do not need lymph node testing.

    There are two ways for your doctor to check the lymph nodes under your arm. They are:

    • Axillary lymph node dissection. During this surgery, some of the lymph nodes in the armpit are removed and checked for cancer cells.
    • Sentinel lymph node biopsy. This is a procedure in which tissue is removed from the lymph node closest to the cancer-the sentinel node (SN) or group of nodes-to help find out whether breast cancer has spread to this area.

    If the lymph node biopsy results show cancer, more lymph nodes may be removed.

    Removing lymph nodes from under the arm can sometimes cause lymphedema , a swelling in the arm.

    In the past, doctors believed that removing as many lymph nodes as possible would improve chances for cure. But lymph node surgery itself does not improve your chances for a cure. Treatment with chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy offers the best chance of destroying cancer cells that have spread beyond the breast.


    ByHealthwise Staff
    Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
    Specialist Medical Reviewer Laura S. Dominici, MD - General Surgery,

    Current as ofJuly 26, 2016

    This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

    © 1995-2017 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.