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Neck dissection is a surgical procedure in which all the lymph nodes in the neck are removed. This procedure can either be elective, when there is no evidence that cancer has spread to the neck, or therapeutic, when the presence of cancer in the lymph nodes has been confirmed. There are a number of factors that will determine the extent of the dissection, including the primary site of the cancer and whether there is evidence that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.

What to expect during a neck dissection

During a neck dissection, the patient is completely asleep under general anesthesia. The surgeon will then make incisions that will allow for the complete removal of the lymph nodes. The surgeon will take care to preserve the major structures in the neck during the procedure. In some instances where the cancer has invaded these structures, the surgeon will remove additional parts of the neck such as the:

  • Internal jugular vein
  • Sternocleidomastoid muscle
  • Spinal accessory nerve

After the procedure is complete, the surgeon will likely insert a small tube to drain any fluid in the space where the lymph nodes were. After a few days, the tube will be removed by the surgical team, which may cause some slight discomfort.

The experienced surgeons at Moffitt Cancer Center perform neck dissections and other procedures for patients with head and neck cancer. To determine if a neck dissection is appropriate for a patient, our multispecialty head and neck cancer team will collaborate to review the specifics of each patient’s case and develop an individualized treatment plan that is tailored to his or her needs.

If you have been told to consider neck dissection surgery, or if you would like to consult with a Moffitt physician about your head and neck cancer treatment options, request an appointment at Moffitt by calling 1-888-663-3488 or filling out a new patient registration form. You do not need a referral to request an appointment.