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Radical Neck Dissection: Definition, Complications & Side Effects

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

A radical neck dissection is just like it sounds: a radical procedure where the neck is dissected to remove cancerous growths. Read this lesson to learn more about the procedure and its potential complications or side effects.

What is a Radical Neck Dissection?

It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but a radical neck dissection is a surgical procedure that is used to remove cancerous tissues or growths in the head or neck. This is an extensive surgery, so it's usually done once the cancer has already spread around the tissues in the head or neck, but not after cancer has spread to other parts of the body; removing the tissues is the most successful way to stop the cancer from spreading to other regions. In fact, a radical neck dissection is so thorough, it removes all tissues in the area, including the muscles, lymph nodes, nerves, salivary glands, and major blood vessels.

A radical neck dissection is the most thorough of all the types of neck dissections. A modified neck dissection removes less tissue than a radical procedure, and a selective neck dissection removes the least amount of tissue of all these types of surgeries.

The neck is home to about 1/3 of the body's lymph nodes, which can develop cancerous growths. During a radical neck dissection, as much of the cancerous tissue is removed as possible, and while this can include removing lymph nodes, the surgeon tries to save as many structures as is feasible.

A radical neck dissection involves removing tissues from this region of the head and neck.
radical neck dissection region

Possible Complications and Side Effects

As previously mentioned, a radical neck dissection is a major surgical procedure. As such, there are a number of potential complications that can occur. The surgery may include removing important structures, such as the sternocleidomastoid muscle, which is responsible for flexing the head, internal jugular vein, and salivary gland. It also has control over the spinal accessory nerve, which is responsible for controlling parts of speech, swallowing, and head and neck movements. The most common complications from radical neck dissections include bleeding, post-surgical infections, and adverse reactions to medication.

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