Most women with breast cancer are treated with some form of surgery. Fortunately, surgical techniques have improved dramatically, allowing many women to undergo surgery that preserves the breast. Although every case varies, breast cancer surgery usually involves the removal of the tumor and one or more lymph nodes to determine if the cancer has spread beyond the breast.
There are several types of surgical procedures for breast cancer.
Lumpectomy is a breast-conserving treatment that involves removing only the breast lump and some of the surrounding normal tissue.
The entire breast is removed during a simple mastectomy, but the lymph nodes under the arm or muscle tissue from beneath the breast are left intact.
Modified Radical Mastectomy
A radical mastectomy involves removing the entire breast and some of the lymph nodes under the arm.
A radical mastectomy involves the removal of the entire breast, lymph nodes and chest wall muscles under the breast. It is rarely performed because modified radical mastectomies are just as effective and involve less disfigurement.
Prophylactic mastectomy involves the removal of the breast as a precautionary measure, even though no cancer is present. Women with genetic mutations that put them at greater risk of developing cancer may choose a prophylactic mastectomy.
During breast surgery, a physician may perform an axillary dissection, which involves the removal of lymph nodes under the arm to determine if the cancer has spread.
Sentinel Node Biopsy
Some women may have a sentinel node biopsy instead of standard axillary node. To determine if the cancer has spread, the surgeon removes the sentinel lymph node where cancer would travel first. If the sentinel node is free of cancer, the other lymph nodes are left intact. If cancer does exist in the sentinel node, other lymph nodes are removed for examination.
Breast Reconstruction After Mastectomy
Plastic surgeons can restore the appearance of the breast following a mastectomy. The breast reconstruction process, which involves several surgeries, can begin at the time of the mastectomy or at a later date. Surgeons can use implants or skin from the woman’s abdomen or other parts of the body to reconstruct the breast.
Learn more about options for breast reconstruction surgery
Pre-Lumpectomy and Pre-Mastectomy Consultations
Breast cancer patients who will undergo lumpectomy or mastectomy surgery can meet one-on-one with a registered nurse to ask questions and learn what to expect before and after surgery. To set up an appointment, call Andrea McPherson at (203) 863-4350.
Radiation Therapy/Radiation Oncology
Radiation oncologists can deliver higher doses of radiation to the breast and surrounding area with fewer side effects using techniques such as intensity modulated radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is often used along with lumpectomy or mastectomy to eradicate any cancer cells that may remain near the area where the cancer originally developed. This reduces the chance of that the cancer could recur or spread.
Learn more about radiation therapy
Women with breast cancer may undergo chemotherapy if tests indicate or physicians suspect the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Combinations and sequences of different chemotherapy drugs are used to destroy cancer cells. Which chemotherapy drugs are used depends on the type of breast cancer, the age of the woman (premenopausal or postmenopausal), the location and size of the tumor, and the presence of estrogen or progesterone receptors.
Sometimes chemotherapy is administered before surgery (called neoadjuvant therapy) for inflammatory breast cancer or for large masses in the breast or in lymph nodes. This may allow women to have a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy following the chemotherapy.
While undergoing chemotherapy patients often experience fatigue. However, patients experiencing other symptoms should call a physician or nurse right away.
See When to Call – A Guide to Understanding Symptoms from Chemotherapy
Hormone therapy is used to block the effect or to lower the levels of estrogen, a hormone that promotes the growth of breast cancer cells.