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The results of 237 radical axillary dissections undertaken by one surgeon in patients with breast cancer were reviewed to evaluate the role of this procedure in staging and treatment. The accuracy of physical examination in detecting axillary metastases was 68%. With a policy of enforced shoulder immobilisation for 10 days postoperatively, the incidence of postoperative wound complications was 8%. There have been three axillary recurrences during a median follow-up period of 44 months (range 6-97 months). Late complications were assessed in 50 patients followed up for greater than 12 months. While eight patients complained of constant swelling of the arm, only three had a difference in arm circumference of greater than 3 cm and only one had persistent limitation of shoulder abduction. Radical axillary dissection ensures accurate clinical staging and provides excellent local control with few complications and without the need for axillary irradiation.