what is axillary dissection?
The surgical process of removing potentially cancerous lymph nodes from the axilla or armpit area is referred to as axillary dissection. This is a procedure performed alongside mastectomy or lumpectomy, primarily to prevent the spread of breast cancer. A patient’s axilla harbors a cluster of lymph nodes that play a crucial role in fighting infections and filtering out harmful substances from the body, hence its significance in body functions.

Understanding the Axillary Region

The axillary or underarm area is a pyramidal space located between the upper part of the arm and the chest wall. Within this region, the axillary lymph nodes, a group of about 20 nodes located in the armpit, play a key role in the body’s immune function. These nodes drain lymph – a clear fluid containing white blood cells that protect against viruses and bacteria – from the arms, the wall of the chest and the breast.

The nodes are part of a much larger lymphatic system that circulates lymph fluid, nutrients, and waste material between the body tissues and the bloodstream. They serve as mini-biological filter stations, trapping foreign particles like viruses and bacteria and then alerting immune cells to destroy them.

Detailed Definition of Axillary Dissection

Axillary dissection is a surgical procedure involving the removal of axillary lymph nodes. It is primarily performed when a specific type of cancer, such as breast cancer, has spread to these nodes. Removing these nodes can help limit the spread of cancer to other parts of the body.

There are two types of axillary dissection procedures: sentinel lymph node dissection (SLND) and axillary lymph node dissection (ALND). The former is performed when there is no evidence of cancer in the axillary lymph nodes, while the latter is conducted when there is noticeable infection of these nodes.

When is Axillary Dissection Necessary?

Symptoms such as swelling in the underarm area, arm pain, and numbness may lead a doctor to recommend an axillary dissection. Various disease conditions, including breast cancer, melanoma, and lymphoma, may necessitate the procedure. The sentinel node biopsy is a crucial aspect of axillary dissection because it helps determine if cancer has spread beyond the primary tumor site to the lymphatic system. If cancer cells are present in the sentinel nodes, it implies the disease may have metastasized to other parts of the body.

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The Axillary Dissection Procedure

Preparing for an axillary dissection involves detailed preoperative imaging tests and possible use of a local anesthetic to numb the area. The surgeon then makes an incision in the armpit and removes lymph nodes, which are subsequently tested for cancer. After surgery, patients may experience some discomfort, but medication is available to manage pain. Potential complications include lymphedema, seromas, and changes in arm mobility.

Impact of Axillary Dissection

Axillary dissection can have long-term implications, including chronic pain, restricted shoulder motion, and lymphedema, which is swelling caused by obstructed lymphatic circulation. Dealing with these complications often involves physiotherapy, medication, and in some cases, further surgery. Despite these potential drawbacks, the procedure is a crucial weapon in the battle against the spread of cancer.


Axillary dissection has a critical role in preventing the spread of various types of cancer, monitoring disease progression, and influencing the choice of adjuvant systemic therapy. New research and developments into minimally invasive procedures and techniques aim to reduce the post-surgical complications and improve patients’ quality of life post-surgery.


  • What is Axillary Dissection?

It’s the surgical removal of lymph nodes from the armpit area.

  • How is the Axillary Dissection procedure performed?

It involves making an incision in the underarm area and removing the lymph nodes.

  • Are there any complications after an Axillary Dissection?

Yes, some people experience lymphedema, pain, and limited arm mobility.

  • Does Axillary Dissection impact arm mobility long-term?

It can, but physiotherapy and other treatments can help restore mobility.

  • Can the lymph nodes in the axillary region grow back after being removed?

No, lymph nodes do not regrow after removal.6. How long does it take to recover from an Axillary Dissection procedure? Recovery varies with each person, but on average, it takes several weeks.