Lymph Node Dissection


When lymph glands are cut away and removed from the body, this is referred to as lymph node dissection.

Cancerous tissue may be confined to a region or may metastasize, or spread, to other areas. Cancer cells may spread through the lymphatic system and affect the lymph glands. It can be difficult for a physician to determine if lymph glands have become cancerous while they are still in the body, so it might be necessary to have certain lymph nodes removed for tissue study.

  • The removal of lymph glands can be a treatment to prevent further spread of cancer
  • It may also be used as a diagnostic tool to determine if and where any cancer may have spread throughout the body

How it Works

Cancers in the genitourinary regions may affect the lymph nodes in the pelvic and lower abdominal areas. The inguinal lymph nodes are located in the groin area where the legs meet the pelvis, while retroperitoneal lymph nodes are located behind the major organs in the lower abdomen. Lymph nodes that are affected or that may become affected by the cancer may be removed as a treatment to remove cancer cells, as a preventive measure to keep the cancer cells from spreading to other areas of the body, or to make a diagnosis to see where cancer may be located.

Who is a Candidate?

A candidate for the procedure may have cancer that has already spread to the glands. In these cases, the lymph nodes are removed to help to get rid of cancerous cells. Other candidates for a dissection may be those who have a cancer in another body part but that could spread to the lymphatic system. In these cases, the glands may be removed to prevent the spread of the cancer or to determine how far the cancerous tissue may already have spread. A physician may recommend that lymph nodes are removed if the patient is at extremely high risk for cancer to develop in the area. In these cases, the removal of the lymph node allows the physician to check the tissues for any cancerous cells. This can help the physician in determining if cancer is present and to which stage the cancer may have progressed.

What to Expect

Lymph nodes may be dissected as a part of a surgery that is already scheduled to remove cancer in nearby areas, or it may be completed as a procedure all on its own. The surgery will be performed under general anesthesia.

Inguinal lymph node dissection may be recommended for those with cancer in areas such as the vulva, penis, or anus. Melanomas on the trunk or arms may also spread to the inguinal lymph nodes. The surgeon will make an incision in the groin. The inguinal lymph nodes are removed from within the inner front thigh. Following the surgery, the patient may have tubes placed to allow for drainage.

Retroperitoneal lymph node dissection typically requires a large incision down the front of the abdomen for the surgeon to reach the nodes that are located around the aorta and vena cava as they wind below the kidneys. A less invasive laparoscopic procedure may be used in some cases. Those with cancer of the testicles, bladder, or prostate may require the removal of these lymph nodes.