Changes To Expect After Lymph Nodes Are Removed From Armpits

In this video, Dr. Jay K Harness explains the changes that one might encounter after lymph nodes are removed from armpits.

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Dr. Jay K. Harness, MD: As you can imagine, I am asked a variety of questions and this goes on everyday. Frankly, it is one of reasons why we have created Breast Cancer Answers but one of the questions that I am asked, not at all infrequently, “Hey Dr. Harness, after I have lymph nodes removed from my armpit area, hey what kind of changes can I expect”. Well, again like so many answers that depends on a variety of things.

Number one, if you have just sentinel lymph nodes removed, hopefully the kind of changes you are going to experience in this area should be minimal to none. We like to always take out at least one sentinel node, no more than four to get the maximum information that we need and so if we do that carefully, the chance of lymphedema should be very small, the chance of injury in the sensory nerves in this area should be very small, the chance of the obstructing the main lymphatic channel coming out of the arm should also be small.

Now, you could then lose a little bit of sensation in this area and then people asked me things like well, “hey, are my sweat glands going to work normally”? The answer about the sweat glands is they should work normally. Patients always asked me about if we got an incision there, “hey Dr. Harness, when I can I start shaving and when have you started using deodorant”? The answer to those questions are, “let it heal up, give it a good week or so to really seal over. It may feel a little rough in here but you can certainly start shaving and certainly start using deodorant”.

Now, if you end up having all of the lymph nodes removed, whether you are having a mastectomy or a lumpectomy the lymph nodes are being removed because they are diseased and that is called an axillary lymph node dissection. Then the kinds of things that you will experience in the armpit area could certainly be different.

Often the sensory nerves, a little intercostal brachial nerve, they go through the fatty tissue and lymph nodes in the armpit have to be cut in order take out the pathologic lymph nodes, you are going to lose sensation in this area. Again your sweat glands are going to work just fine. Again the same thing about the incision healing up and one can use deodorant, one can use shave, those are pretty much the same whether it is a sentinel lymph node or a lymph node dissection.

Now, when it comes to raising the arm after this kind of surgery, I am asked that question a lot, in general most of us want to have a drain removed if you got one in, allow yourself a good a week to 10 days to heal up but in the interim, there is certainly no reason ways cannot be doing combing your hair, but as far as reaching for the ceiling or walking along with your arm, generally we will like to have you hold off on things like that until after it drains out, particularly all of the lymph nodes have been removed.

So there are a variety of things that can happen. Hopefully this will sort of give you an overview if the channel, that the main channels coming out of the arm are blocked by the lymph node surgery, sometimes you will get sort of a ______ that can take a few months for that to clear up. So as you can see like so many things we do here at Breast Cancer Answers, there are a variety of answers to your questions.

Dr. Jay K. Harness is a board certified surgeon currently treating patients at St. Joesph Hospital in Orange, CA. Dr. Harness specializes in complete breast health, breast cancer surgery, oncoplastic reconstruction, genetic screening, management of breast health issues, risk assessment and counseling. Dr. Harness is the medical director for Breast Cancer Answers.com, and guides this first ever social media show’s information by drawing on his former leadership experience as the President of the American Society of Breast Surgeons and Breast Surgery International. Dr. Harness graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1969 and spent time early on in his career at the University of Michigan Medical Center.

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