What are the different surgeries to treat breast cancer?

Lumpectomy

A procedure in which the cancer, as well as some of the surrounding breast tissue, is removed. Lumpectomy is also known as breast-conserving surgery or partial mastectomy. This is the most common form of surgery for early breast cancer. It is almost always followed by radiation to make sure that any remaining cancer cells are destroyed.

Mastectomy

A procedure in which the entire breast, or as much breast tissue as possible, is removed.  This may or may not include removal of the skin, areola and nipple. In the past, some of the chest muscle was also removed but this is rarely done today. Sometimes, the breast affected by cancer and the healthy breast are both removed. This is called a double or bilateral mastectomy. It is sometimes recommended if there is a high risk that cancer might occur in the healthy breast.

Lymph node surgery

This may also be performed during a lumpectomy or mastectomy. If you have invasive breast cancer or high-grade DCIS, one or more lymph nodes in the axilla (the armpit area) may be removed during surgery to see if they contain breast cancer cells. Lymph nodes are small bean-like structures found throughout your body which act as filters to fight infection. These axillary lymph nodes are where breast cancer cells are likely to first   spread if they break away from the tumor. It is important to check the lymph nodes for any sign of cancer so that appropriate treatment can be given.

There are two different procedures that can be used to check the lymph nodes:

1) Sentinel lymph node biopsy

If cancer cells break away from the tumor, the sentinel lymph node is the first lymph node   into which the cells would travel. If this node is free of cancer, it is most likely that the other nodes are also cancer-free. The sentinel node can be identified by injecting a radioactive substance and/or blue dye near the tumor and seeing to which node it first travels. This one node (sometimes there is more than one) is then removed and examined to see if cancer cells are present. If none are identified, then it can be assumed that no other nodes are affected. A sentinel lymph node biopsy can spare many women the need to have more lymph nodes removed.

2) Axillary lymph node dissection

An axillary lymph node dissection is the removal of many or all of the axillary nodes. A full axillary lymph node dissection might need to be performed if:

    • an ultrasound, physical exam, or biopsy has indicated that axillary nodes contain cancer
    • cancerous cells are found after having a sentinel lymph node biopsy
    • sentinel nodes are not found

I would like to know what to expect with my surgery. Is there someone I can speak with who has had surgery for breast cancer?

It can be very helpful to speak with someone who has had breast cancer surgery and can share their knowledge and experience. All members of our Breast Cancer Support & Information Team have had surgery and can address your questions and concerns. Please call us toll-free at 1-888-778-3100 to speak with a member of our team.

Links to more information

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Surgery
Breastcancer.org

Surgery for Breast Cancer
American Cancer Society

Surgery
Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Surgery Choices for Women with DCIS or Breast Cancer
National Cancer Institute

Surgery for Breast Cancer
Macmillan Cancer Support

Types of Breast Cancer Surgery
Cancer Research UK

Questions to Ask Your Doctor: Before Breast Surgery
Susan G. Komen for the Cure

LUMPECTOMY

Lumpectomy
Breastcancer.org

Lumpectomy
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research

Lumpectomy
Imaginis

Breast-Conserving Surgery (Lumpectomy or Partial Mastectomy) for Breast Cancer
Health Link BC

Lumpectomy (videos)
DIPEx

MASTECTOMY

Mastectomy
Breastcancer.org

Mastectomy
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research

Mastectomy
Imaginis

Mastectomy (videos)
DIPEx

LYMPH NODE REMOVAL / SENTINEL NODE BIOPSY

Lymph Node Removal
Breastcancer.org

Axillary Lymph Nodes
Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy – Questions and Answers
National Cancer Institute

Sentinel Node Biopsy
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research

Sentinel Node Biopsy: An Information Guide for Patients
NSW Breast Cancer Institute

AFTER SURGERY

Living with Breast Cancer Surgery
CancerHelp UK

Questions to Ask Your Doctor: After Breast Surgery
Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Exercises after Breast Surgery: A Guide for Women
Canadian Cancer Society

BOOKS

Living in the Postmastectomy Body: Learning to Live in and Love Your Body Again, by Becky Zuckweiler (Hartley & Marks Publishers, 1998)