Background Suction drains are routinely used after modified radical mastectomy and are an important factor contributing to increased hospital stay as the patients are often discharged only after their removal. Amongst various factors that influence the amount of postoperative drainage, the negative suction pressure applied to the drain has been reported to be of great significance. While a high negative suction pressure is expected to drain the collection and reduce the dead space promptly, it may also prevent the leaking lymphatics from closing and lead to increased drainage from the wound. Against this background a prospective randomized clinical study was conducted to compare the amount and duration of drainage between a half negative suction and full vacuum suction drainage in patients following modified radical mastectomy. The associated postoperative morbidity was also compared between the two groups. Methods 85 FNAC (fine needle aspiration cytology) proven cases of locally advanced breast cancer were randomized. (Using randomly ordered sealed envelops, which were opened immediately before the closure of the wound) in to 50 patients with full vacuum suction (pressure = 700 g/m2) and 35 cases in to half vacuum suction drainage (pressure = 350 g/m2) groups. The two groups were comparable in respect of age, weight, and technique of operation and extent of axillary dissection. Surgery was performed by the same surgical team comprising of five surgeons (two senior and three resident surgeons) using a standardized technique with electrocautery. External compression dressing was provided over the axilla for first 48 hrs and following that patients were encouraged to do active and passive shoulder exercises. The outcomes measured were postoperative morbidity and the length of hospital stay. Statistical methods used: Descriptive studies were performed with SPSS version 10 and group characteristics were compared using student t-test. Results Half vacuum suction drains were removed earlier than the full suction vacuum suction drains. There was no significant difference in the incidence of seroma formation in the two groups and there was a significant reduction in the total hospital stay in patients with half vacuum suction drainage systems as compared to the full suction drainage group (p < 0.001) without any added morbidity. Conclusions Half negative suction drains provide an effective compromise between no suction and full or high suction drainage after modified radical mastectomy by reducing the hospital stay and the post operative morbidity including post operative seromas.