What Is a Lymph Node Resection?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Lymph node resection is removal of all or part of a lymph node that may contain cancerous cells. It can be performed for biopsy purposes to allow a pathologist to check for the spread of cancer, or as part of treatment. Various terms are used in cancer care; a lymph node resection may refer specifically to taking only part of a lymph node, for example. This term can also be used interchangeably with lymph node dissection, where at least one node is removed, or lymphadenectomy, involving a group of related nodes, in some settings.

The lymphatic system, shown in green.
The lymphatic system, shown in green.

Cancers are notorious for spreading to the lymph nodes because as lymphatic fluid moves through the growth, it can pick up cancerous cells. These travel along the path of least resistance to the node, where they can start multiplying and colonizing the structure. When a patient appears to have a cancerous tumor, one of the first steps in treatment is staging, which determines how far it has spread. A lymph node resection can be helpful for staging because it allows a surgeon to take samples of several nodes around the tumor to see which, if any, have cancerous cells.

Lymph nodes in the head and neck.
Lymph nodes in the head and neck.

If a growth is caught early, a lymph node resection may reveal that the cancer has not spread and the regional lymph nodes remain intact. In the cases of metastatic cancers, the nodes are involved along with neighboring tissues. This may necessitate a more radical procedure to take out a group of related nodes so the cancer can be arrested in its tracks before it spreads further through the lymphatic circulation.

Some lymph node resections can be performed on awake patients under sedation, while others will require general anesthesia because they are more invasive. People typically need to avoiding eating and drinking on the day of the procedure. Before the surgical team begins, the patient may be tested to look for any last-minute contraindications. Informed consent is also obtained to confirm that the patient understands which procedure is being performed and why, while the medical team verifies the surgical site with markings on the patient’s body.

When a surgeon recommends a lymph node resection, patients may want to ask for clarification. This term can be used to describe several different procedures and patients may not understand which one is involved. A true resection involves only taking part of a lymph node, usually for a biopsy. More invasive procedures are more properly known as dissections or lymphadenectomies.

Swollen lymph nodes are one of the first signs of illness.
Swollen lymph nodes are one of the first signs of illness.
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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