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 they have cancer.
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.
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 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.
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.