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 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 breast tumor and a small rim of normal tissue around it. The rest of the breast remains intact. How your breast looks after a lumpectomy depends on the amount of tissue removed.
Mastectomy. The surgeon removes the entire breast. In many cases, but not all, this includes the nipple and areola. Sometimes, breast reconstruction is done at the same time as a mastectomy.
Radiation therapy after lumpectomy
After surgery, most people who have a lumpectomy will have radiation therapy to the breast, and sometimes the underarm area. If the treatment plan also includes chemotherapy, radiation therapy is given after chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy after mastectomy
Some people who have a mastectomy may have radiation therapy to the chest and/or the underarm area. If the treatment plan also includes chemotherapy, radiation therapy is given after chemotherapy.
Learn more about radiation therapy.
Although the exact treatment for breast cancer varies from person to person, 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.
Deciding between lumpectomy and mastectomy
If you have a choice, 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 does not affect whether you will need chemotherapy, hormone therapy and/or HER2-targeted therapy. 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 hormone receptor status. Hormone receptor status is a biomarker.
Learn more about deciding between a lumpectomy and a mastectomy.
You’re not alone
If you’re facing breast cancer surgery, remember, 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 be helpful to talk with others who’ve finished treatment to help ease your fears.
Our Support section has a list of resources to help find local and online support groups. Your health care provider may also be able to help you find a support group.
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Surgery does not cause cancer to spread
Exposing breast cancer to air, removing some tumor tissue with a needle biopsy or cutting through the 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 is not because the breast cancer spread. Your body just needs time to recover from the surgery.
Sometimes, the surgeon finds more cancer during surgery than could be seen on a mammogram or other imaging tests, or 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, so it wasn’t found until the surgery.
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