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The goal of breast cancer surgery is to remove the entire tumor from the breast. Some of the lymph nodes from the underarm area (axillary nodes) may also be removed to see if cancer cells are present.

Lumpectomy and mastectomy

There are two basic types of surgery to remove breast cancer:

Figure 5.1 shows each type of surgery.  

With lumpectomy, the tumor and a small rim of normal tissue surrounding the tumor are removed, but the rest of the breast remains intact. With mastectomy, the entire breast is removed.  

Almost all women who have lumpectomy will have radiation therapy to the breast after surgery. Some women who have mastectomy may also have radiation therapy.   

Figure 5.1

Lumpectomy. The surgeon removes the breast tumor and a small rim of normal tissue surrounding it. Some lymph nodes from the underarm area (axillary nodes) may also be removed to see if cancer cells are present.

Breast Cancer 101 (Interactive Multimedia) - Lumpectomy
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 Lumpectomy image from BC101 

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Mastectomy. The surgeon removes the entire breast (in most, but not all, cases this includes the nipple  and areola). Some lymph nodes from the underarm area (axillary nodes) may also be removed to see if cancer cells are present.  

Breast reconstruction can be done at the same time as the mastectomy or later. Some women choose not to have reconstruction. 

Breast Cancer 101 (Interactive Multimedia) - Mastectomy
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Mastectomy image from BC101 

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Treatment guidelines

Although the exact treatment for breast cancer varies from person to person, treatment guidelines help ensure quality care. These guidelines are based on the latest research and the consensus of experts. The National Comprehensive Care Network (NCCN) and American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) are two respected organizations that regularly update and post their guidelines online. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) also has overviews of treatment options. 

Deciding between lumpectomy and mastectomy

If you are facing breast cancer surgery, you may have a choice between a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. Almost all women who have a lumpectomy will also get radiation therapy. Some women may also get radiation therapy after a mastectomy. Keep in mind that the choice of surgery does not affect whether you will need chemotherapy, hormone therapy and/or targeted therapy. The recommendations for these drug therapies are made regardless of the type of surgery you choose. Learn more about deciding between lumpectomy and mastectomy.  

The next sections describe each type of surgery and offer information that can help you choose which surgery is right for you. Our interactive treatment navigation tool for newly diagnosed patients can help you explore the different types of treatments you may have.

You are not alone

If you are facing breast cancer surgery, remember there are many women who have been where you are today. They had the same fears and made the same tough choices. These women have gone through surgery, recovered and are living their lives. They may be willing to talk to you and answer questions.  

You can find other survivors on our Message Boards and other online resources. Your health care provider can tell you how to find a local support group.  

Learn more about social support and find a list of support resources.   

 Komen Support Resources  

  • Our breast care helpline 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636) provides free, professional support services and help finding local support groups and resources. Our trained and caring staff are available to you and your family Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET and from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. PT. 
  • Our Message Boards offer online forums for breast cancer survivors, including a forum on breast surgery, to share their experiences and advice with other breast cancer survivors. 
  • Our fact sheets, booklets and other education materials offer additional information for survivors.  

Surgery does not cause cancer to spread

It is a myth that exposing breast cancer to air during surgery or cutting through the cancer might cause it to spread. Surgery and diagnostic procedures, such as surgical and needle biopsies, do not cause breast cancer to spread.

Updated 04/29/14


Treatment Introduction 







Deciding Between Mastectomy and
Lumpectomy Plus Radiation Therapy