Axillary clearance is a procedure that removes all the lymph nodes from the underarm when the lymph nodes are found to have cancer cells. It entails the removal of lymph nodes in the axilla with the preservation of important blood vessels and nerves. The lymph nodes will be examined under a microscope for cancer cells to allow for accurate cancer staging; this allows the doctor to decide on further treatment(s) after surgery to help reduce the risk of cancer relapse.
Side effects of axillary clearance include shoulder stiffness and numbness of the inner part of your upper arm. Lymphoedema (swelling of the arm) may occur in 10 to 15 percent of women. This is because lymph nodes drain fluid from the arm and their removal may cause fluid to accumulate in the arm on the operated side.
A separate axillary incision is often needed for patients undergoing breast-conserving surgery.
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