Complete Neck Dissection

Neck dissection refers to the removal of lymph nodes and surrounding tissue from the neck for the purpose of cancer treatment. The purpose is to prevent further spread of that disease to other parts of the body. The extent of tissue removal varies considerably depending on the indication for surgery and the clinical circumstances. The surgery is done under general anesthesia.


As with any surgical procedure, there are some risks involved in a complete neck dissection. The risks and complications include:

  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Nerve Injury (Injury to the nerves controlling the lower face, throat, shoulder, tongue, diaphragm and skin sensation is a potential risk)
  • Skin breakdown (usually a result of an infection)
  • Blood Vessel Injury (Many arteries and veins are encountered during neck dissection.)
  • Complications due to anesthesia (This will be discussed with you prior to surgery with the anesthesiologist.)

Before the Procedure

  1. Nothing to eat or drink after midnight the evening before the procedure. This includes all food, liquids, water, candy, mints or chewing gum. You may brush your teeth. You will not be able to undergo the surgery if you do not follow these instructions.
  2. Please notify us of any medications and dosage (including insulin) or allergies you may have. You will be informed of which medications you can take on the day of surgery with a sip of water.
  3. A week before the surgery, please avoid aspirin, aspirin-containing products, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Aleve) or Vitamin E. Please notify our office if you are on any medications that affect bleeding, such as coumadin or warfarin. Please call our office if you have any concerns about any medications. (585-342-2080)
  4. Remove all make-up, jewelry, nail polish, and artificial nails before surgery.  
  5. Do not bring valuables to the hospital (cash, credit cards, watches, jewelry, etc.).
  6. You will be admitted to the hospital for observation after your procedure. Your family can wait in the waiting room, and they will be contacted after your procedure.

After the Procedure

You will likely be in the hospital for two to seven days, depending on the extent of your surgery to examine the nodes of the neck and/or remove the tumor. Pathology results may take up to two weeks to come back.

Activity: Avoid any strenuous activity, including: heavy lifting, bending, or straining for at least two weeks after surgery. Neck swelling and numbness are to be expected after surgery, and may persist for up to three months following the neck dissection. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy for your neck and arm muscles.

Diet: Advance your diet as tolerated from clear liquids to soft foods, then solid foods. Drink as much fluid as you can to prevent dehydration.

Wound Care: After surgery, you can expect to have an incision and a drainage tube in place. The drain may be removed before you are discharged. Removal of the drain has been described by most patients as discomfort rather than pain. If you are sent home with a drain, the nurse in the hospital will go over drain care with you prior to your discharge. Steristrips over the surgical wound are to remain dry and in place for approximately two weeks post-operatively. Your follow-up appointment for suture removal should be approximately 7-14 days after surgery. Check your incision for signs of infection (redness, tenderness, swelling, warmth at the site, any pus-like drainage).

Medications: For pain relief, use your pain medication as directed and as needed. Please notify our office if the pain medicine does not relieve your pain. Your doctor will give you a prescription for antibiotics at the time of your hospital discharge if indicated.

Follow-Up: Our office will notify you of the date and time of your follow-up appointment.

Please call our office at 585-342-2080 for any of the following:  

  1. Trouble breathing or swallowing
  2. Coughing up blood or persistent bleeding (you may notice some slight blood tinged sputum, which is not uncommon)
  3. Fever above 101°F
  4. Pain that is not relieved by medicine.
  5. Redness, swelling, or drainage at your incision site
  6. Significant swelling of the neck or back of throat.

If it is a medical emergency, please call 911.