What is neck dissection?

A neck dissection is surgery to remove all or some of the lymph nodes and surrounding tissue from the neck. Lymph nodes are small, round or bean-shaped glands. They remove germs from your body, help fight infection, and trap cancer cells. This surgery is most often done to treat cancer of the head and neck.

You and your doctor will plan your treatment based on your wishes and the reason for your surgery. Every person’s treatment is different. Sometimes surgery to remove a tumor is done at the same time. In this case, your doctor may give you other information to help you prepare for both surgeries.

You will be asleep during the surgery. Your doctor may make cuts under your chin and toward your ear, at the bottom of your neck, or in the middle of your neck. This depends on which lymph nodes must be removed. These cuts are called incisions. They are closed with stitches, staples, or skin clips. They will leave scars that fade with time.

Most people stay in the hospital for several days or longer after surgery. How long you stay depends on why you need surgery and how much tissue was taken out.

You may be able to go back to work or your normal routine a few weeks after the surgery. This depends on your job and the extent of your surgery.

Having cancer can be scary. You may feel many emotions and may need some help coping. Seek out family, friends, and counselors for support. You also can do things at home to help you feel better while you go through treatment. Your doctor can guide you to many local resources for support and more information. Call the American Cancer Society (1-800-227-2345) or visit its website at www.cancer.org for more information.

Lymph system

Lymphatics (320x240)
credit: © 2016-2019 Healthwise, IncorporatedLymph nodes

The lymph system is a network of vessels and organs throughout the body. This system carries lymph fluid, nutrients, and waste material between the body tissues and the bloodstream.

The lymph system includes the lymph nodes, tonsils, thymus, spleen, and bone marrow. The lymph nodes filter lymph fluid as it flows through them. The nodes trap bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances, which are then destroyed by special white blood cells called lymphocytes.

The lymph system is also an important part of the immune system, the body's defense against disease. When there is a problem in the body, the nearby lymph nodes may become swollen. For example, if a person has a throat infection, lymph nodes in the neck may swell and become tender.

Sometimes diseases, like cancer, can begin in the lymph system or spread to it.