Surgical removal of breast cancer cells a common form of treatment

Breast cancer surgery is a common form of treatment for breast cancer. It involves surgical removal of the tumor and as much “margin”—the tissue in the surrounding area—as possible in order to test for cancer. Chemotherapy (cancer medication) is often used in conjunction with (at the same time as) or before surgery, in order to shrink the tumor.

Types of breast cancer surgery and which type is right for you

There are different types of breast cancer surgery and the type you have depends on factors such as the size of your breast, the location of the tumor, and whether the cancer has spread to the under-arm lymph nodes, which are small organs in your lymphatic system that remove fluids, bacteria, and cancer cells. The type of surgery may also depend on your personal preference.

The two main types of surgery are:

  • Lumpectomy (also called wide local excision) – This is considered a “breast-conserving” surgery involving removal of as little breast tissue as possible. The goal is to only remove the cancer and surrounding tissue. During the procedure, your surgeon may also do a sentinel lymph node biopsy or in some cases a lymph node sampling, to further determine whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. You will generally have radiation therapy, a series of treatments after the surgery that will help kill any remaining cancer cells.
  • Mastectomy – These days it is less common to have a “radical mastectomy” involving removal of the entire breast as well as the breast skin, surrounding tissue and muscle. Modern mastectomy procedures include:
    • Simple (total) mastectomy – breast, nipple, areola, and sentinel lymph nodes removed
    • Modified – breast, nipple, areola, and lymph nodes removed
    • Skin-sparing – breast, nipple, areola, and sentinel lymph or nodes, but not the breast skin

Depending on the type of surgery you’re having, you may also want to have breast reconstruction surgery. This surgery can sometimes be performed during the initial surgery, in which case you may not need to have multiple surgeries.

In some cases, however, depending on lymph node results and other factors, multiple surgeries may be needed.

To schedule an appointment with a breast cancer specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.