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Lymph Node Removal (Lymphadenectomy) for Melanoma

Lymphadenectomy is surgery to remove lymph nodes. This surgery is done to see if cancer has spread to a lymph node. Some lymph nodes are located near the surface of the body, while others are deep in the abdomen or around organs, such as the heart or liver. Lymphadenectomy is also done to remove melanoma that has spread only to the lymph nodes and to prevent melanoma from spreading farther (metastasizing).

General anesthesia is usually used for a lymphadenectomy. An incision is made in the skin over the lymph nodes to be removed. The type and depth of the incision varies depending upon the location of these lymph nodes. The lymph nodes are removed along with nearby lymphatic tissue and some underlying soft tissue.

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What To Expect After Surgery

Recovery depends on the extent of the surgery and the site where the lymph nodes were removed.

Why It Is Done

Lymphadenectomy is done to remove lymph nodes that may have melanoma in them.

How Well It Works

Wide local excision and lymphadenectomy may cure some melanomas that have spread to the nearby lymph nodes but no farther.1

Risks

Surgery to remove lymph nodes can cause many side effects. The risks of lymphadenectomy include:

  • Buildup of fluid at the site of surgery (seroma).
  • Infection.
  • Swelling of a limb affected by removal of the lymph nodes (lymphedema).
  • Numbness, tingling, or pain in the surgical area.
  • Breakdown (sloughing) of skin over the area.

What To Think About

The decision to have a lymphadenectomy is not simple. It depends on your age, the location and thickness of the melanoma, results of the sentinel node biopsy, and other possible treatments. Discuss these issues with your doctor before deciding whether to have a lymphadenectomy.

Not all lymph node enlargement means involvement with melanoma. Other conditions that cause lymph node swelling, such as acne or infection, could occur at the same time as the melanoma. Such conditions should be ruled out before lymphadenectomy is done.

Swelling after surgery (lymphedema) can be prevented or controlled by use of antibiotics, support stockings (also called compression stockings), massage, and diuretics.

Lymphadenectomy usually is not needed if melanoma has not spread to the lymph nodes.

Complete the surgery information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this surgery.

Citations

  1. National Cancer Institute (2012). Melanoma Treatment PDQ—Health Professional Version. Available online: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/melanoma/healthprofessional.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Amy McMichael, MD - Dermatology
Last Revised October 12, 2012

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 12, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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