If lymph nodes near a squamous or basal cell skin cancer are growing larger, there will be concerns that the cancer might have spread to lymph nodes in the proximity. One or more nodes may be biopsied, or many nodes might be removed in a more extensive operation called a lymph node dissection. If cancer cells are found on the sentinel lymph node biopsy, this procedure is often recommended. However, it is not clear if it can improve survival.
Adjuvant treatment with interferon after the lymph node surgery is recommended in some cases. Lymph node dissection is more involved than surgery on the skin, and usually requires general anesthesia. A possible long-term side effect of the procedure is lymphedema, a condition in which excess fluid collects in the legs or arms. Fluid can build up if the lymph nodes are removed, causing limbs to swell, and, if it is severe enough, it can cause skin problems and an increased risk of infections in the affected limb. Elastic stockings and compression sleeves can be used to help patients with this condition.