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Women’s Health Library

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Breast Cancer: Lymph Node Surgery for Staging Cancer

Overview

If breast cancer spreads, it often goes to the lymph nodes first. Lymph node surgery is done to find out if cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.

The types of lymph node surgery for breast cancer are:

Sentinel node biopsy.
The doctor removes the first lymph nodes that cancer may have spread to (sentinel nodes). If cancer is found in only one or two nodes, you may not need to have more lymph nodes removed.
Axillary node dissection.
If enough cancer cells are found in the sentinel lymph nodes, the doctor will usually remove most of the lymph nodes in the armpit area (axillary nodes).

You may have lymph node surgery at the same time as a mastectomy or breast-conserving surgery. People with very early breast cancer, such as ductal carcinoma in situ, may not need lymph node testing.

Credits

Current as of: September 8, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Laura S. Dominici MD - General Surgery, Breast Surgical Oncology

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