The goal of breast cancer surgery is to remove the entire tumor from the breast.
Some of the lymph nodes in the underarm area (axillary nodes) may also be removed to see if cancer cells are present.
There are 2 basic types of surgery to remove breast cancer:
Figure 5.1 shows each type of surgery.
Lumpectomy. The surgeon removes the breast tumor and a small rim of normal tissue around it, but the rest of the breast remains intact.
How your breast looks after lumpectomy depends on the amount of tissue removed. The image below is just an example. Your scar may be a different size and/or in a different place.
Image courtesy of Lange Productions (http://langeproductions.com/).
Mastectomy. The surgeon removes the entire breast (in many, but not all, cases this includes the nipple and areola).
Sometimes, breast reconstruction is done at the same time as a mastectomy.
After surgery, most women who have a lumpectomy will have radiation therapy to the breast, and sometimes the underarm area. If the treatment plan includes chemotherapy, radiation therapy is given after chemotherapy.
Some women who have a mastectomy may have radiation therapy to the chest and/or the underarm area. If the treatment plan includes chemotherapy, radiation therapy is given after chemotherapy.
Learn more about radiation therapy.
Breast reconstruction can help restore the look and feel of the breast after a mastectomy. It can be done at the same time as the mastectomy or later.
In rare cases, breast reconstruction or breast reduction may be done after a lumpectomy to maintain a more natural appearance of the breast, or to match the size and shape of the other breast.
Learn more about breast reconstruction.
Although the exact treatment for breast cancer varies from person to person, guidelines help ensure high-quality care. These guidelines are based on the latest research and agreement among experts.
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) are respected organizations that regularly review and update their guidelines.
In addition, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has treatment overviews.
Talk with your health care providers about which treatment guidelines they use. Since there’s often a lag time between the latest research and guideline updates, most providers prefer to base their treatment on the latest research.
You may have a choice between a lumpectomy (plus radiation therapy) or a mastectomy.
If you have a choice, take time to study your options. Weigh the risks and benefits of each and choose the surgery that’s right for you. Survival is the same no matter which option you choose .
Also, the choice of surgery does not affect whether you will need chemotherapy, hormone therapy and/or targeted therapy. Drug therapies are given based on the characteristics of the tumor, not the type of surgery you have.
Learn more about deciding between lumpectomy and mastectomy.
If you are facing breast cancer surgery, remember, many people have been where you are today. They had the same fears and made the same tough choices. They have gone through breast cancer treatment, recovered and are living their lives.
It may be helpful to talk with women who have finished treatment about their experiences to help ease your fears.
Our Support section offers a list of resources to help find local and online support groups. Your health care provider may also be able to help you find a local support group.
Learn more about social support and support groups.
SUSAN G. KOMEN® SUPPORT RESOURCES
Exposing breast cancer to air, removing some tumor tissue with a needle biopsy or cutting through the cancer during surgery does not cause it to spread.
Surgery and diagnostic procedures (such as surgical and needle biopsies) don’t cause breast cancer to spread.
For a short time after surgery, you will feel worse than you did before surgery. This is not because the breast cancer spread. Your body just needs time to recover from the surgery.
Also, sometimes, the surgeon finds more cancer during surgery than could be seen on a mammogram or other imaging tests (or felt during a clinical breast exam). This doesn’t mean the breast cancer spread during surgery. The breast cancer was already there. It just didn’t show up on the imaging tests.
Learn more about talking with your health care provider.
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, Susan G. Komen® has a series of Questions to Ask Your Doctor cards that may be helpful. For example, we have a question card on breast cancer surgery and a question card on breast reconstruction.
You can print these cards and take them with you to your next doctor appointment. There’s plenty of space to write down the answers to these questions, which you can refer to later.
You can also download other Questions to Ask Your Doctor cards on many different breast cancer topics. These cards are a nice tool for people recently diagnosed with breast cancer, who may be too overwhelmed to know where to begin to gather information.
Interactive Treatment Navigation Tool
Surgical Options Video
Facts for Life: Breast Cancer Surgery
Questions to Ask Your Doctor: Breast Cancer Surgery
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