Breast Cancer Surgery
The goal of breast cancer surgery is to remove the entire tumor from the breast.
Some of the lymph nodes in the underarm area (axillary lymph nodes) may also be removed to see if they contain cancer.
Lumpectomy and mastectomy
There are 2 basic types of surgery to remove breast cancer:
Lumpectomy (also called breast-conserving surgery, partial mastectomy or wide excision). The surgeon removes the tumor and a small rim of normal tissue around it. The rest of the breast remains intact. How your breast will look after a lumpectomy depends on the amount of tissue removed.
Radiation therapy after surgery
Radiation therapy after a lumpectomy
After surgery, most people who have a lumpectomy will have radiation therapy to the breast, and sometimes the underarm area. If your treatment plan also includes chemotherapy, radiation therapy is given after chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy after a mastectomy
Some people who have a mastectomy may have radiation therapy to the chest and/or the underarm area. If your treatment plan also includes chemotherapy, radiation therapy is given after chemotherapy.
Learn more about radiation therapy.
Deciding between lumpectomy and mastectomy
If you have a choice of surgery, study your options. Weigh the risks and benefits of each surgery and choose the one that’s right for you. Survival is the same no matter which option you choose [2-3].
Surgery and drug therapies
The choice of surgery doesn’t affect whether you’ll need chemotherapy, hormone therapy, HER2-targeted therapy and/or other drug therapies. Drug therapies are given based on the characteristics of the tumor, not the type of surgery you have.
For example, whether or not you will need hormone therapy depends on the hormone receptor status of the tumor. Hormone receptor status is a biomarker.
Learn more about deciding between a lumpectomy and a mastectomy.
Although the exact treatment for breast cancer varies from person to person, evidence-based guidelines help ensure high-quality care. These guidelines are based on the latest research and agreement among experts.
In addition, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has treatment overviews.
Talk with your health care team about which treatment guidelines they use.
After you get a recommended treatment plan from your health care team, study your treatment options. Together with your health care team, make thoughtful, informed decisions that are best for you. Each treatment option has risks and benefits to consider along with your own values and lifestyle.
You’re not alone
If you’re facing breast cancer surgery, it’s normal to feel worried or afraid. Many people have been where you are today. They had the same fears and faced the same tough choices. They’ve gone through breast cancer treatment, recovered and are living their lives.
It may help to talk with others who’ve finished treatment to help ease your fears. You can do this in a support group or by connecting one-on-one with another breast cancer survivor.
You can also talk with your health care providers about how you’re coping. They care about your overall well-being and can help you find ways to improve it. In addition to suggesting a support group, they may connect you to another member of your health care team, such as a social worker or patient navigator, for support. They may also refer you to a counselor.
Our Support section has a list of resources to help you find local and online support groups and other resources.
Learn about ways to cope with stress.
Susan G. Komen® Support Resources
Surgery does not cause cancer to spread
Exposing breast cancer to air, removing some breast tumor tissue with a needle biopsy or cutting through the breast cancer during surgery does not cause it to spread.
For a short time after surgery, you will feel worse than you did before surgery. This isn’t because the breast cancer has spread. Your body just needs time to recover from the surgery.
Sometimes, the surgeon finds more cancer during surgery than was seen on an imaging test, or more than was felt during a clinical breast exam. This doesn’t mean the breast cancer spread between the diagnosis and the surgery, or during surgery. The breast cancer was already there. It just didn’t show up on the imaging tests or couldn’t be felt, so it wasn’t found until the surgery.