What You Need to Know about Breast Cancer Surgical Choices


When diagnosed with breast cancer, one of the first topics you, your family and your care team will discuss is your treatment options. For many patients, surgery is the first treatment, followed by chemotherapy or radiation to remove what surgery could not remove.

The main goals of surgery for breast cancer patients are:breast-cancer-treatment-options

  • to remove as much of the cancer as possible (breast-conserving surgery or mastectomy)
  • to find out whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes (sentinel lymph node biopsy or axillary lymph node dissection)
  • to restore the breast’s shape after cancer has been removed (breast reconstruction)
  • to relieve symptoms of breast cancer

The two types of breast cancer surgery to remove the cancer altogether are breast-conserving surgery and a mastectomy.

Breast-conserving surgery, also known as a lumpectomy, is where only the part of the breast containing the tumor is removed. Its goal is to remove the tumor and surrounding tissue, but leave the rest. The amount actually removed depends on the size and location of the tumor. Many women who have early-stage cancers opt for this treatment, as well as those whose cancer is secluded to one spot or whose tumor is less than five centimeters in diameter.

A mastectomy is a surgery where the entire breast is removed, including all breast tissue and sometimes other tissues as well. The two most common types of mastectomies are a simple mastectomy (breast is removed, but lymph nodes and muscle tissues are not) and a double mastectomy (both breasts are removed). A mastectomy might be the best option for you if you have a larger tumor, are pregnant, have the BRCA mutation, or if you have already had breast-conserving surgery and all of the cancer was not removed.

To choose between the two, it is important to talk to your doctors and care team about the stage of your cancer and the risks and benefits of both. The advantage for many for breast-conserving surgery is that you keep your breast, but you will likely also need radiation. With a mastectomy, your entire breast is removed, but you are less likely to also need radiation.

Lymph node surgeries also may be performed to remove your lymph nodes under your arm and determine whether cancer has spread there. This operation can be a part of a surgery to remove breast cancer, or can be separate.

Breast reconstruction surgery is a personal decision if you have a mastectomy and want implants in their place. Some women opt for immediate reconstruction, where they have reconstruction surgery at the time of their mastectomy; others may opt for this at a later time. If you are interested in reconstructive surgery, talk with your breast surgeon and plastic surgeon before your mastectomy so that you can know the plan from the beginning and give the surgical team time to plan your treatment options.


6 Responses to “What You Need to Know about Breast Cancer Surgical Choices”

  1. judy wilson

    After I found out that there’s a lymph node under my arm, I’ve been trying to determine the right course of action to prevent cancer from spreading to the rest of my body. It’s great that there’s a lymph node surgery that can remove it. So far, cancer hasn’t spread to my breasts or any other part of my body, so hopefully having it removed will reduce my risk for having cancer in the future.

    • SarahCannon

      Thank you for reaching out, Judy. We are here to help support you in your cancer journey in any way we can! We have a dedicated line – askSARAH- staffed by registered nurses who can answer cancer-related questions that you have and connect you to resources and care in your community. You can call 844.482.4812 or visit sarahcannon.com/asksarah.

  2. Mikey Dy

    Thanks for sharing this information. A lot of women are suffering breast cancer and doesn’t know what are the right choices to make. Especially about breast cancer surgeries.

  3. Alex Dean

    I have a friend that got a call back from the doctor after she had her annual mammography appointment, and she is really worried. I am wanting to be the supportive friend, but I don’t know a whole lot about this and am in need of some information. It’s good to know that one of the goals that is to make sure that the cancer hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes. Which you hope that surgery wouldn’t be necessary but are grateful if it will help with prevention of the cancer spreading. This is a really great article, and it helped out a lot. Hopefully, my friend will be alright but it is good to know this stuff just in case.

  4. Kourtney Jensen

    Finding out you have cancer is a hard time and something that can take time to process. There are many treatments for breast cancer. As you mentioned, surgical removal of the tumor(s) is the first treatment that is offered. Breast surgery is a great option, but women are left with a lot of their identity missing which is hard, but knowing that it is something that can potentially save my life, and is being done by surgeons who are familiar and comfortable with the process can put some of the worry at ease. If someone is going through this, I find this article very helpful and one can learn a lot about the different options that have for treating breast cancer.


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