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Fluid can build up in the soft tissue in a limb where lymph nodes were removed.


Lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system, which transports excess fluid from the inside of tissue to blood vessels. This helps your immune system fight infection. Doctors often remove and biopsy lymph nodes to assess whether breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body; this is called a lymph node dissection. Unfortunately, this key diagnostic procedure can compromise the lymphatic system’s drainage and immune functions. Lymphedema is a condition in which the arms and hands in affected limbs become swollen. The limbs may be more susceptible to infection as well.

Lymphatic surgery can improve drainage and reduce swelling. In some cases, it can also improve immune function.

Types of Lymphedema Procedures

Lymphovenous Bypass

This procedure may be able to prevent lymphedema when performed at the time of axillary dissection. Blocked lymphatic fluid is drained into the venous system by connecting superficial lymphatic channels under the skin to very small veins under the skin.

Vascularized Lymph Node Transfers (Autologous Lymph Node Transfers)

This procedure transfers lymph nodes from an unaffected area to the extremity with lymphedema.

Visit the Lymphedema Surgery section to learn more about how each procedure is performed.