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Side effects of axillary dissection

Possible side effects of axillary dissection include:

  • fluid may collect in the armpit – this is called a seroma and may need to be drained using a needle and a syringe; this can be done by a doctor, breast care nurse or another health professional in the clinic or by a GP
  • wound infection – because the armpit is sweaty and bacteria are present on the skin, the wound can sometimes become infected; antibiotics may be given after surgery to treat any infections that may arise
  • stiffness in the arm or shoulder – this may develop soon after surgery as scar tissue forms in the armpit; it may help to do some approved exercises after surgery
  • numbness of the arm, shoulder, armpit and parts of the chest can occur because the nerves that supply sensation to the skin may need to be cut in order to remove the lymph nodes; this will usually improve with time but there may be some areas that will always stay numb
  • the arm may swell up; this is called lymphoedema and may occur because lymphatic vessels have been disrupted by the breast cancer treatment; this can develop a few months or years after surgery
  • because lymph fluid may not drain out of the arm as well as it did before the surgery, women are at higher risk of developing an infection in the arm called cellulitis; precautions should be taken when using the arm for activities that could graze or break the skin, like gardening.