What is a Lymphadenectomy?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A lymphadenectomy is a surgical procedure in which the lymph nodes in an area of the body are removed. This procedure is usually performed because a patient has been diagnosed with cancer, and a physician wants to learn more about the cancer and start taking steps to reduce the speed at which the cancer spreads. Lymphadenectomies are performed in a hospital, and the patient may be asked to stay overnight after the procedure, depending on the extent of the procedure. This procedure can also be performed while a cancerous tumor or suspicious growth is removed.


Classically, a lymphadenectomy is performed by a surgical oncologist, a surgeon who specializes in the treatment of cancer. It is done under general anesthesia to minimize discomfort to the patient, which can make it risky, as general anesthesia is accompanied with a number of risks which need to be carefully managed. After the surgery, the patient will need to follow after care instructions which are designed to reduce the risk of lymphedema and infection.

In a limited or modified lymphadenectomy, the surgeon removes some of the lymph nodes in the area of interest. A total or radical version of the procedure involves complete removal of the lymph system in the area. Once removed, the lymph nodes are tested to see whether or not they contain cancerous cells. This is used to learn more about how far the cancer has spread. The fewer lymph nodes with cancerous cells, the less time the cancer has had to spread in the body, and the better the prognosis for the patient.

This procedure may not be recommended for all patients and all cancers; treatment options depend on a number of factors which cannot be predicted. A doctor may recommend what is known as a sentinel node biopsy, in which the lymph node closest to the cancer is removed and examined, before recommending a more extreme lymphadenectomy. The doctor may also recommend a number of other tests and procedures to learn more about the cancer before a lymphadenectomy takes place.

Cancer treatment tends to be most effective when it happens quickly. People should not rush into treatment without considering all of their options and talking about their case with a physician, but they shouldn't dally, either. Once cancer is suspected, an appointment to see an oncologist should be made as soon as possible, and the patient should prepare for a whirlwind of tests and procedures which are designed to provide a complete picture of the situation. In some cases, it may be appropriate to travel to another region to see a specialist and to receive treatment at a specialized hospital.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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How will I know if I need to go on interferon following my lymphadenectomy?

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