Surgery is the most common treatment for breast cancer. There are several types of surgery:
1. Breast-sparing surgery
An operation to remove the cancer but not the breast is breast-sparing surgery. It is also called breast-conserving surgery, lumpectomy, segmental mastectomy, and partial mastectomy. Sometimes an excisional biopsy serves as a lumpectomy because the surgeon removes the whole lump. The surgeon often removes the underarm lymph nodes as well. This procedure, which involves a separate incision, is called an axillary lymph node dissection. It shows whether cancer cells have entered the lymphatic system. After breast-sparing surgery, most women receive radiation therapy to the breast in order to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
An operation to remove the breast (or as much of the breast tissue as possible) is a mastectomy. In most cases, the surgeon also removes lymph nodes under the arm. Some women have radiation therapy after surgery.
Studies have found equal survival rates for breast-sparing surgery (with radiation therapy) and mastectomy for Stage I and Stage II breast cancer.
3. Sentinel lymph node biopsy
This is a new method of checking for cancer cells in the lymph nodes. A surgeon removes fewer lymph nodes, which causes fewer side effects. (If the doctor finds cancer cells in the axillary lymph nodes, an axillary lymph node dissection usually is done.)
4. Breast reconstruction
You may choose to have breast reconstruction. This is plastic surgery to rebuild the shape of the breast. It may be done at the same time as a mastectomy or later. If you are considering reconstruction, you may wish to talk with a plastic surgeon before having a mastectomy.