Breast Surgery and Cancer

For women diagnosed with breast cancer, surgery is usually considered the first line of attack. Several surgical methods may be used depending on many factors, including the stage of the cancer. Breast surgeries involved in the cancer treatment process include lumpectomy, mastectomy, lymph node removal, and breast reconstruction.

Lumpectomy

Lumpectomy is one of the most common breast surgery methods used to treat cancer. Also referred to as breast-conserving surgery, this procedure involves the removal of the tumor and a small portion of the tissue surrounding it. Lumpectomy surgery spares most of the surrounding breast tissue, in order to avoid significantly changing the size of the breast. When combined with breast reduction surgery performed for cosmetic reasons, this procedure is known as oncoplastic breast surgery.

Mastectomy

Mastectomy is the more drastic version of surgical treatment for breast cancer. It involves the removal of all breast tissue, including both healthy and cancerous portions of the breast. It is typically recommended when the cancer stage, or the size or characteristics of the tumor, make it difficult to remove all of the cancerous tissue while sparing the breast. Some women opt for a preventive mastectomy before being diagnosed with breast cancer if they have a family history of cancer or other risk factors and are willing to undergo surgical removal of the breast in order to avoid getting cancer.

There are several variations of mastectomy surgery which differ in the amount of breast tissue removed. One version includes the removal of all breast tissues, including the skin and areola, in addition to portions of the chest wall and the lymph nodes. Other types do not require the removal of underlying chest tissues, while skin-sparing mastectomy leaves behind the breast skin for use during breast reconstruction surgery.

Lymph node removal

Lymph node removal is a separate procedure often performed at the same time as lumpectomy or mastectomy. This procedure is usually recommended for patients when a biopsy has shown that the cancer has begun to spread.

Breast reconstruction

Breast reconstruction surgery can be performed immediately following the mastectomy procedure, or at any point in the future. This is the surgical rebuilding of the breast, usually using silicone or /saline breast implants. Some women opt not to undergo this procedure, instead choosing to wear a prosthetic breast.

After lumpectomy or mastectomy, samples of the breast tissues removed are sent to a lab. In about a week, your doctor will want to schedule a follow-up visit, both to check on your recovery and to discuss the results of the lab test. At that point, additional treatments such as radiation therapy may be scheduled.

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