What is Involved in Breast Cancer Surgery?

Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers
A mastectomy involves the surgical removal of one or both breasts.
A mastectomy involves the surgical removal of one or both breasts.

The two main types of breast cancer surgery are a lumpectomy and a mastectomy, and should be chosen based on how far the cancer has spread. A lumpectomy, or breast-conserving surgery, involves removing just the area with cancer, and is often best for women still in the early stages of this disease. On the other hand, a mastectomy involves removing either most or all of the breast, and it is often required when the cancer has spread over a larger area. Both types are usually followed by radiation therapy, though a mastectomy is also often followed by breast reconstruction surgery. Since mastectomies are usually more complex, they are typically completed in a hospital, while lumpectomies are usually outpatient procedures.

A woman may be eligible for a lumpectomy if the cancerous area is still small due to being in the early stages of the disease. In most cases, the surgeon makes an incision to remove the area that has cancer, along with the tissue that immediately surrounds it. The lymph nodes are also sometimes removed if the cancer appears to have spread to them, and then radiation therapy is usually given for one to two months. Unfortunately, women who have already had radiation treatment on their breasts or have two areas of cancer are not typically eligible for this type of breast cancer surgery.

When the cancerous area is too large to be removed through a lumpectomy, sometimes a partial mastectomy is an option. Similar to a lumpectomy, a partial mastectomy requires that the surgeon removes the cancerous part of the breast, along with any tissue that surrounds it, but leaving the remainder of the healthy breast tissue. Radiation treatment is then usually given for six weeks to two months.

On the other hand, some types of breast cancer surgery require the entire breast to be removed, rather than just the cancerous part. For example, a simple, or "total," mastectomy occurs when the whole breast is removed, but the lymph nodes have not been affected and are left in place. A modified radical mastectomy, by contrast, usually involves taking out the breast, the nipple, and the lymph nodes, while a radical mastectomy requires that all of these parts be taken, in addition to the surrounding chest muscle. Fortunately, breast reconstruction is a popular option after this type of breast cancer surgery, which often means that most patients can move on with their lives once the cancer is removed.

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    • A mastectomy involves the surgical removal of one or both breasts.
      A mastectomy involves the surgical removal of one or both breasts.