Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery MBChB (UCT).
Fellow of South African College of Surgeons
Diploma in Obstetrics & Gynaecology
WHAT ARE Neck Dissections?
Dr Mitchell performs a neck dissection or neck surgery to treat the spread of cancer to lymph nodes situated in the neck. Lymph nodes are tiny in size, similar to that of a grape. These small glands that rest within the armpits, below the jaw, on the sides of the neck and groin and just above the collarbone, filter a clear liquid called "lymph." This transparent lymph fluid contains white blood cells that assist in the fight against infection.
Why are my lymph nodes swollen?
A swollen lymph gland is a sign of response against infection. These glands start to swell when confronted with a disease, illness or stress. Cancer also often spreads through the lymphatic system and causes the lymph nodes to swell, necessitating their removal.
Besides cancer, swollen neck or head lymph glands could be a sign of:
- A skin, sinus or ear infection
- A tooth infection
- Strep throat
Other severe infections that lead to an attack on the immune system include lupus, HIV. In these difficult situations, numerous lymph nodes start to swell, and this spreads throughout the body.
As a neck surgeon, Dr Mitchell will ask a series of questions related to your medical history, previous surgeries and chronic illnesses. She conducts a physical exam to examine the size and level of the tenderness of the lymph nodes. These swollen nodes may vary in size from that of a seed to a cherry. She also conducts a range of tests to diagnose the cause of swollen lymph nodes that include:
- Blood tests: The results from the blood test indicate signs of illness or hormonal disorders that could cause swollen lymph nodes.
- Imaging tests (MRI, CT scans, ultrasounds and x-rays): Imaging tests capture images of the lymph nodes. These tests can confirm the cause of swollen lymph nodes.
- Biopsy: Dr Mitchell performs a minimally invasive biopsy to diagnose the cause of swollen lymph glands. She extracts cells from the affected lymph nodes and sends the sample to the laboratory for further analysis. This test helps confirm or rule out severe illnesses such as
In some cases, swollen lymph nodes reduce in size, but if it fails to disappear, this could indicate cancer. If cancer is confirmed, the neck surgeon will remove the tumour as well as affected nearby lymph nodes to prevent the spread of the disease. Because there are over 100 lymph nodes in the neck, and cancer begins as a microscopic disease that is invisible to the naked eye, the surgeon is sometimes unable to differentiate between diseased and healthy nodes. It’s for this reason that the surgeon has to remove nearby non-cancerous lymph nodes. If necessary, Dr Mitchell will advise on chemotherapy or radiation therapy for advanced stages of cancer.
Once the anaesthetic wears off, you can return home. You must notify the nurse if you show signs of nausea or experience intense headaches.
Pain after the procedure lasts a few days. The nurses will administer pain medication intravenously. However, you must contact Dr Mitchell if the pain persists for more than ten days.
After neck surgery, food or fluids are fed through a drip in your arm. The nurse will remove the drip once you are ready to ingest food. It helps to take sips of water before you can resume your regular diet. The doctor will instruct you to not drive for at least two weeks after the procedure until you have healed.
Please note: The information provided above and on this website is for education and interest purposes only. It is not intended to replace a personal one-on-one consultation, nor is it meant to substitute professional medical advice, diagnose or treat any condition. A consultation with a specialist and qualified health care provider such as Dr Mitchell is essential for correct diagnosis and management, as well as to answer any queries that you may have. Never disregard or delay in seeking professional medical advice due to something you have read on this website. Dr Mitchell takes no responsibility for any errors or omissions present on this website and is not liable for any consequences that may occur from misinterpretation of the information on this website. In the event of uncertainty or an emergency, please visit your nearest casualty.