How long should suction drains stay in after breast surgery with axillary dissection?
Daily suction drainage volumes were recorded for 63 patients after wide local excision of a breast carcinoma with axillary dissection (n = 37) or mastectomy with axillary dissection (n = 26). Suction drains were removed at the discretion of the clinical ward staff after a median of 4 days (range 1-7 days). In all, 32 patients (51%) later developed seromas requiring needle aspiration. Minor wound infection rate was not significantly higher in patients who developed seromas than those who did not (5 vs 2). Seroma formation was associated with a larger total suction drain volume (mean 480 ml (range 28-1150 ml) vs 240 ml (range 10-635 ml); P = 0.0001). The median yield of axillary lymph nodes was significantly greater in those who developed seromas (11 (range 4-20) vs 8 (range 1-19); P = 0.002). There was no difference in the volume drained in the 24 h preceding drain removal (mean 60 ml (range 0-150 ml) vs 50 ml (range 0-290 ml); NS). Keeping drains in situ longer did not protect against seroma formation. By 48 h, 74% of the total volume drained by each drain had been collected. Seroma formation after breast surgery with axillary dissection is an inconvenience for a high proportion of patients. This complication does not seem to be reduced by prolonged suction drainage of the wound, which in itself delays patient discharge and causes further inconvenience.