Surgical Treatment

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Surgery is a local treatment with the primarily aim of removing as much cancerous tissue as possible from the breast. It is usually the first line of treatment for breast cancer and most women will have at least one operation during the course of their disease. Studies have shown that breast conserving therapy and mastectomy are equal in terms of their effectiveness.

Breast conserving surgery (lumpectomy)

Breast conserving surgery involves surgical removal of only the cancerous area of the breast and some surrounding normal tissue. Usually, underarm lymph nodes are also removed. This procedure is often called a lumpectomy.

Studies have shown that for smaller tumors, a less extensive operation that removes the tumor but leaves most of the remaining breast tissue intact is as effective as removing the entire breast.

Although there is a chance that not all the cancer will be removed, the breast is saved, the surgery is less invasive and an overnight stay in the hospital may not be required. Radiation therapy is generally required to decrease the chances of recurrence.

Side effects may include temporary loss of arm movement, numbness and lymphedema, a fluid build-up that causes swelling in the arm and hand on the surgery side.

Mastectomy

Surgery of any kind can be a challenging experience, but mastectomy — the surgical removal of one or both breasts — may raise special concerns. You may wonder if this surgery is your best option for treating or preventing breast cancer. You may also be concerned about how you’ll feel and look after the mastectomy.

Mastectomy involves surgical removal of the entire breast and usually some underarm lymph nodes. Mastectomy is an invasive procedure, requiring a short stay of between five and 10 days in the hospital. Side effects may include temporary soreness, loss of arm movement, numbness and lymphedema

Before deciding on surgery, make sure you know all the facts. Take your time to gather information on the procedure and what you can expect before and after the surgery. Talk with your doctor for all the information you need before making your decision.

Radiation therapy is often not required and there are several options for reconstruction if a woman chooses. However, there is a small chance that not all the cancer will be removed with a mastectomy.

Who should undergo a mastectomy?

Mastectomy is an effective treatment for breast cancer. It may be recommended over other treatment options – such as radiation therapy and a lumpectomy (surgery to remove the tumor instead of the whole breast) if:

  • You’re in the first or second trimester of pregnancy, when radiation creates an unacceptable risk to your unborn child.
  • You have two or more tumors in separate areas of the breast.
  • You have widespread or malignant-appearing microcalcifications throughout the breast.
  • You’ve previously had radiation treatment to the breast region.
  • You have a strong family history of breast cancer.
  • You carry a gene mutation that carries a high risk of developing another breast cancer.