Surgery for breast cancer

Posted by Sara Liyanage on 30 September 2017

While still dazed by the breast cancer diagnosis you might be told that you need surgery. Yep. Just pile on more poop. Here is our super-quick (non-techy) guide to breast cancer surgery.

Everyone’s surgical options are different. The most common types of surgery for breast cancer are:

Lymph node removal (technical term: axillary node dissection) – some or all lymph nodes removed from under one or both arms where cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes.

Sentinel lymph node biopsy – a few lymph nodes are removed from the armpit to test if there are any cancer cells.

Lumpectomy (or wide local incision) – the cancerous tissue is removed from the breast.

Partial mastectomy – the removal of part of the breast.

Single mastectomy – the removal of one breast.

Double mastectomy – the removal of both breasts.

Breast reconstruction surgery – reconstruction of the breast (or breasts) following mastectomy.

Or a combination of any of the above.

Sometimes surgery takes place after diagnosis and before chemotherapy. Sometimes it takes place at the end of chemotherapy before radiotherapy. Sometimes it takes place after chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Everyone is different (so don’t compare your surgery with the person in the next hospital bed, or the person on a website forum or the friend of a friend who is going through breast cancer treatment.)

Dr Tasha Gandamihardja is a breast cancer surgeon and she’s written this excellent guide on breast cancer surgery for this website.

Helpful resources and information

Cancer Research UK information on breast cancer surgery

Breast Cancer Now information on breast cancer surgery

Macmillan information on breast cancer surgery

The information and content provided on this page is intended for information and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice.

Reviewed July 2021


Claire diagnosed in 2016
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