Head & Neck

About Neck Dissection

Neck Dissection describes surgery where the lymph nodes of a certain region of the neck or the whole of the neck on one or both sides are removed together with all the intervening fibrofatty and lymphatic tissue while preserving key or vital structures (especially the large blood vessels and cranial nerves. 

Neck dissection is usually done as part of the treatment for cancer of the head and neck. The aim of neck dissection is both for staging (diagnostic) and for treatment (therapeutic). The tissue that is removed is sent for histological examination and testing in the laboratory to determine if cancer from the primary site (e.g. throat or voice box) has spread to the lymph nodes of the neck and if so to what extent (number of lymph nodes) and in which regions. It also serves to remove as much tumour from the neck as possible whether visible with the eye (macroscopic) or invisible (microscopic). 

The extent of neck dissection depends on the nature, size and location of the primary tumour (where cancer originates from), evidence of tumour spread on clinical or radiological investigation (scans) and on intraoperative findings (where appropriate).  If the treatment of the primary tumour is radiotherapy or chemotherapy, neck dissection is performed when there is residual or recurrent lymph node metastasis (spread) in the neck. 

Neck dissection is performed under general anaesthesia. There are variations to the incisions (skin cuts) used for the surgical approach. Special tubes (known as surgical drains) are inserted at the time of surgery to help drain blood and tissue fluid that is produced by the tissue of the neck after surgery. These surgical drains are usually required for 5-7 days post-operatively.

There are many variations in the approach and extent of neck dissection for different type of cancers and the details of a neck dissection for any particular patient needs to be discussed thoroughly with your surgeon prior to surgery.