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Lymphadenectomy - Types, Procedure, Benefits, Risks, and Post-Surgery Care

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Lymphadenectomy helps in preventing the spread of cancer in the body. Read this article to know about the purpose and types of lymphadenectomy.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Pandian. P

Published At December 16, 2022
Reviewed AtJune 21, 2023


Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures that serve as a filter for any foreign material entering the body. It plays an important role in cancer staging and finding any spread of cancer in the body. When involved in any disease, these lymph nodes are removed surgically by a procedure called lymphadenectomy.

What Is Lymphadenectomy?

The surgical removal of one or more lymph nodes or a group of lymph nodes is called lymphadenectomy or lymph node dissection. A section of tissue is obtained after their removal to test for the presence of cancer. The lymph node dissection is referred to as regional or radical dissection depending on the number of lymph nodes removed during the surgery.

Why Is Lymphadenectomy Done?

Lymph nodes, a part of the lymphatic system (contains white blood cells that fight against infections), help to filter the waste products from the body and return the filtered blood to circulation. Hence, they can also carry cancer cells and spread within the body. The spread of the cancer cells from the primary site (site of origin) to a distant location is called metastasis. Cancers of the breast, skin (melanoma), thyroid, head and neck, stomach, and lungs are the most common causes of metastasis to the lymph nodes. Removing the involved lymph nodes aids in finding the metastasis and reduces the chances of cancer recurrence and its spread.

What Are the Types of Lymphadenectomy?

The surgical procedure is broadly divided into two types, namely, regional and radical lymphadenectomy.

  • Regional lymphadenectomy involves the removal of only a few lymph nodes.

  • Radical lymphadenectomy removes almost all the lymph nodes near the tumor.

  • A sentinel node biopsy is a procedure wherein the lymph nodes close to the tumor site are examined for cancer. If positive, additional nodes are then removed.

Depending on the location of lymphadenectomy, they are described as:

  • Axillary Lymphadenectomy - The removal of lymph nodes in the armpit (axillary) region. These lymph nodes are mostly involved in breast cancer.

  • Inguinal Lymphadenectomy - The removal of lymph nodes in the groin (inguinal) region is associated with anal and vulvar cancer.

  • Cervical Lymphadenectomy - The removal of lymph nodes in the neck (cervical) region is associated with head and neck cancers.

  • Retroperitoneal Lymphadenectomy - The removal of lymph nodes in the back of the stomach (retroperitoneal) region. These lymph nodes are commonly involved in cancer of the ovary and testes.

  • Pelvic Lymphadenectomy - The removal of lymph nodes in the upper pelvis region. These lymph nodes are commonly involved in bladder, rectal and prostate cancer.

  • Mediastinal Lymphadenectomy - The removal of lymph nodes in the central part of the chest (mediastinal) region. These lymph nodes are commonly involved in lung cancer.

How to Prepare a Patient for Lymphadenectomy?

  • The doctor will provide all the information regarding the purpose, benefits, and possible risks involved with the procedure. The patient should sign a consent form as approval for the surgery.

  • Avoid having solid food about eight hours before the surgery and have some water just before surgery.

  • If the patient is under medications such as Aspirin (blood thinner), it has to be stopped a week before the surgery.

  • Allergies to anesthesia or medications are informed to the doctor to prevent complications.

  • Avoid smoking or alcohol consumption.

How Is the Procedure of Lymphadenectomy Done?

Lymphadenectomy is recommended to the patient as a treatment plan, to help in diagnosis, or after cancer therapy to ensure complete eradication of cancer cells. Before planning for the surgery, a radiograph and biopsy (testing of a sample of tissue or cells to identify an illness or cancer) of the lymph nodes are taken to confirm the presence of cancer. After all the tests are positive, lymphadenectomy is done for further confirmation. The whole procedure is done under general anesthesia and takes about an hour to complete.

  • The surgery can be done by laparoscopy (a fiber-optic instrument with a camera attached at one end called a laparoscope helps visualize the operation site from the outside) or open (using large cuts or incisions) technique.

  • In laparoscopic surgery, small incisions or cuts are made in the affected site and the instruments and laparoscope are introduced through these cuts to remove the lymph nodes. Since small incisions are used, the procedure is painless and has a faster recovery.

  • Open surgery involves the use of larger incisions or cuts in the affected area and the removal of lymph nodes with utmost care without damaging the adjacent structures. The operation site is closed with sutures, and a drain is placed to remove the fluid from the wound. Since a large incision is involved, it is a relatively painful procedure and has a slower healing period.

What Are the Benefits of Lymphadenectomy?

  • Helps the physician to examine the lymph nodes after the surgery and find information about the spread of cancer (metastasis) from the original site.

  • Helps to reduce or eliminate the cancer cells in the body.

  • Helps in staging and grading of cancer.

  • As a part of a treatment plan, lymph nodes are removed after proper investigation.

What Are the Risks Associated With Lymphadenectomy?

Some of the risks involved with the surgery are

  • Delayed wound healing due to infection.

  • If the drain is not placed, fluid gets built up at the site of operation.

  • Blood clots may form.

  • Injury to the adjacent structures like the blood vessel and nerves might occur if not removed with proper care. This can lead to pain and numbness at the surgical site.

What Are the After-Care Instructions for Lymphadenectomy?

  • The site of operation must be clean and dry.

  • Do not wear any tight-fitting clothes or jewelry that might irritate the surgical site.

  • The draining tube placed during the surgery is not removed until informed.

  • Avoid lifting heavy weights, exercising, and any activity that causes strain.

  • All the medications prescribed should be consumed regularly.

The surgeon must be informed when there are any symptoms of pain, swelling, bleeding, or any other difficulty to be managed immediately.


Lymphadenectomy is a minor surgical procedure used in cancer treatment and diagnosis. The overall success of the surgery depends on the stage of cancer spread and the risks or complications involved in the surgery. The side effects can be controlled by appropriate treatment. Hence, lymph node dissection helps to prevent cancer spread and has the ability to save a person’s life.

Frequently Asked Questions


Why Is Lymphadenectomy Done?

Lymphadenectomy, also referred to as lymph node dissection, is a surgical procedure done to remove one or more groups of affected lymph nodes. The doctors might recommend this technique in cases of cancer. It is also used to detect the presence and spread of the cancerous condition as a diagnostic means.


Is Lymph Node Removal a Serious Surgery?

Not every surgery for lymph node removal is serious or considered the major one. The nature of the surgery depends upon the part of the body where the lymph nodes are present. The surgery of removing the lymph nodes close to the melanoma can be a massive surgery that is generally performed with general anesthesia.


What Are the Side Effects Associated With Lymph Node Removal?

Lymph node removal can present certain side effects.
- Infection.
- Fluid accumulation at the surgery site.
- Nerve injury- tingling sensation, numbness, or pain in the site.
- Problems with wound healing.
- Scarring.
- Blood clots. 


How Long Will a Lymphadenectomy Surgery Take?

The lymphadenectomy or lymph node dissection is a relatively minor procedure that requires nearly an hour in the operation theater. General anesthesia will be given concerning the affected site of the body. The surgeons will open the incision and remove the lymph nodes in case of open surgery.


What Is the Recovery Time After the Lymph Node Removal?

The recovery time depends upon the type of surgery and the location of the lymph nodes. The recovery period also depends upon the type of task and if any further intervention. For instance, the person after lymphadenectomy for axillary lymph nodes can get back into the normal routine within three to six weeks.


Will Lymph Nodes Regenerate Following the Removal?

The regeneration of lymph nodes occurs only in certain conditions where there is continued lymph circulation in the nodes or where it shows a relatively rapid recovery of lymph circulation. Nevertheless, the regeneration of lymph nodes does not take place in stable obstruction of lymph drainage. In such cases, fibrosis takes place gradually in its residual part.


What Is the Risk of Lymphadenectomy?

The lymphadenectomy carries certain risks after the procedure. The potential risks include blood clots, wound infection, nerve damage, damage to nearby vessels, and an infection. But the comprehensive form of lymphadenectomy holds the risks of various morbidities.
- Nerve injury.
- Massive bleeding.
- Pelvic lymphocele.
- Lower extremity lymphoedema.


Will Lymph Nodes Turn Out to Be Cancerous?

In certain cases, the swelling of lymph nodes can be associated with cancer. Cancer can be related to lymph nodes in two distinct ways. One is cancer spread from the underlying body part to its lymph nodes. The other way is cancer starts right from the lymph nodes and such a cancerous condition is called lymphoma.


Is Lymph Node Removal Done if Cancerous?

Firstly, the medical healthcare professional prescribes a biopsy test when the lymph nodes are swollen and look abnormal. Then, the biopsy is issued to the laboratory for the detection of the presence of cancer cells. Once the cancer is detected, the doctors might prescribe the removal of certain or all of the lymph nodes.


What Should One Avoid After Lymph Node Removal?

Lymph node removal is a surgical intervention performed to remove one or more of the affected lymph nodes. One should avoid certain tasks after lymph node removal until the time of complete recovery. So, avoid strenuous activities like weight-lifting, housework, biking, and aerobic exercise in case of axillary lymph node removal. Hence, never put too much load on the site where the lymph node removal is done.


Is Lymphadenectomy a Surgical Intervention?

Lymphadenectomy is certainly a surgical procedure that involves the removal and dissection of the lymph nodes. It is chiefly prescribed and serves an essential part in the staging and treatment of cancer. It is also recommended in the diagnostic aspects of the underlying cancer. In diagnosis, a section of lymph node tissue is removed and sent for the detection of cancer cells.


Is the Surgery for Lymph Node Removal Painful?

Pain and swelling are the potential complications one can get after lymph node removal. The clinical research says that lasting pain seems to prevail in individuals who had the lymph nodes removed or who had this lasting pain before the time of surgery.


What Are the Distinct Levels of Lymphadenectomy?

The lymphadenectomy can be regional or radical. The Regional lymphadenectomy involves the removal of sample tissue of lymph nodes nearing cancer. Whereas, radical lymphadenectomy is known for the complete removal of all the lymph nodes in the specific region. Moreover, lymph nodes can be of different levels according to location.
- Axillary lymphadenectomy.
- Inguinal lymphadenectomy.
- Cervical lymphadenectomy.
- Pelvic lymphadenectomy.
- Retroperitoneal lymphadenectomy.
- Mediastinal lymphadenectomy.


What Is the Survival Rate of Surgery on Lymph Nodes?

According to a clinical-based study addressing the survival time and cumulative rates of survival in various lymph node dissection groups, the median survival period was about 146 months. In addition, the cumulative survival rate of the lymph node dissection was about 80 percent.


Can Lymph Node Biopsy Be Painful?

The lymph node biopsy is prescribed for the detection of the presence of cancer cells or other inflammation. Here, the lymph nodes are located and all or part of them is removed. The lymph node biopsy is generally performed by means of general anesthesia. So, the person does not feel any pain as they fall asleep.


What Are the Signs That Indicate the Cancerous Lymph Node?

Cancer can be related to lymph node swelling in distinct ways. The signs showing the cancerous lymph node condition are listed below.
Lumps or lymph nodes swelling under the skin.
- Pain 
- Fever.
- Drenching night sweats.
- Itching skin.
- Weight loss.
- Tiredness.
- Loss of appetite.
- Cough.
- Trouble breathing.
- Chest pain. 


Can Lymph Nodes Grow Back After Removal?

When the cancerous condition involves the lymph nodes, there is a higher risk of recurrence of cancer even after surgery. So, the lymph nodes are detected precisely and the affected ones are removed by means of lymphadenectomy. At times, lymph node removal can make it hard for the lymphatic system to function as before.
Source Article IclonSourcesSource Article Arrow
Dr. Pandian. P
Dr. Pandian. P

General Surgery


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