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Types of Surgery for Breast Cancer

Several types of surgery are used to treat breast cancer. The goal of each is to remove the cancer. You and your surgeon will decide which approach is best for you.

Three-quarter view of female underarm area showing breast anatomy ghosted in. Incisions in underarm and on breast for lumpectomy.

Three-quarter view of female underarm area showing breast anatomy ghosted in. Outline around tissue for simple mastectomy.

Three-quarter view of female underarm area showing breast anatomy ghosted in. Dotted line shows tissue and lymph nodes removed in modified radical mastectomy.

Lumpectomy

The goal of lumpectomy is to remove the cancer while conserving the breast. To do this, the surgeon removes the breast tissue that contains the cancer cells. A margin of normal tissue is also taken. This surgery does not often require a hospital stay. In most cases, it is followed by radiation therapy.

Simple mastectomy

During a simple mastectomy, the surgeon removes all of the breast tissue, plus the nipple. This surgery most often requires a hospital stay. Based on the results of surgery and follow-up tests, further treatment may also be needed.

Modified radical mastectomy

During modified radical mastectomy, the surgeon removes all the breast tissue. A strip of skin that contains the nipple is also taken. Some of the lymph nodes in the armpit near the breast are removed as well. This surgery most often requires a hospital stay. Based on the results of follow-up tests, further treatment may be needed.

Checking the lymph nodes

If cancer cells break away from a tumor, they can travel in the lymph fluid. During surgery, your first lymph node or nodes may be removed and checked for cancer. This is called a sentinel node biopsy. In some cases, all of the nodes are removed. If the nodes contain cancer, more treatment is often needed.

Risks and possible complications

Risks of breast and lymph node surgery include:

  • Pain or numbness (under the arm)

  • Bleeding or infection

  • Fluid collection (seroma)

  • Long-term swelling of the arm (lymphedema)

  • Stiffness of the shoulder

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 6/1/2017
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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