Before Breast Cancer Surgery, A Question Every Patient Should Ask Her Surgeon

Usually a person with a new breast cancer diagnosis knows she has a decision regarding surgery: lumpectomy or mastectomy. Plenty of articles implore women and surgeons to avoid the bigger operation when possible, because mastectomy does not offer a survival advantage over lumpectomy. I have written previously about that choice.

One aspect of breast cancer surgery that’s less often discussed—about which patients may not be aware—is the method by which doctors check glands under the armpit. The old way to evaluate if cancer has spread is called axillary lymph node dissection. That procedure, in which surgeons remove as many glands as they can find in the armpit, carries significant risk of lymphedema, a sometimes painful arm swelling, and other complications.

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