How does surgery treat breast cancer?

Ajay K. Sahajpal, MD
Transplant Surgery
Surgery treats breast cancer by removing the cancerous cells from the body.
Stuart A. Linder, MD
Plastic Surgery
In patients who are found to have had malignant tumors, generally some form of surgery will be required. Small tumors may be removed by a surgical lumpectomy, removing the tumor with a small margin of healthy tissue around the cancerous tissue. However, more extensive tumors normally require more exenterative surgery such as mastectomy or partial mastectomy with lymph node dissection. Some patients may undergo modified radical mastectomies with lymph node dissection and radiation therapy. There are several reconstructive surgeries that can be performed, including silicone gel implant reconstruction, autologous transfer of tissue through pedicles, or direct free flaps of tissue brought over to the breast to reconstruct a mound with microvascular anastomosis.

Most breast cancer patients need surgery to remove the cancer. If a tumor is small, a lumpectomy (which removes the tumor and a thin surrounding layer of healthy breast tissue) may be sufficient. With larger or more extensive cancers, a surgeon may need to remove more or all of the breast and possibly one or more nearby lymph nodes.

Some women decide to have reconstructive breast surgery at the same time as their cancer surgery or afterward. The breast tissue can be replaced with the woman's own tissue (removed from elsewhere in the body) or with a saline or silicone implant.

Picture of modified radical mastectomy

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.