What you need to know about breast cancer surgery

Posted by Sara Liyanage on 04 February 2023

A doctor holding a clipboard with a stethoscope.

Here is our quick guide to breast cancer surgery. We’ve written this from our own experience and research that we’ve carried out as patients. It’s an overview for you: we encourage you to talk to your medical team about your personal circumstances and carry out your own research by using the reputable resources listed at the end of this article.

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

Sentinel lymph node biopsy – 1 or 2 lymph nodes are removed from the armpit to test if there are any cancer cells.

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

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

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 you may have a combination of some of the above, for example a lumpectomy and lymph node removal.

Sometimes surgery takes place after diagnosis and before chemotherapy. Sometimes it takes place at the end of chemotherapy before radiotherapy. Everyone is different (so don’t compare your surgery to what other people are having).

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

Further information

We’ve just given a very brief overview of the types of surgery and there is a lot more to each type of surgery. For more information we recommend the following resources:

Cancer Research UK information on breast cancer surgery

Breast Cancer Now information on breast cancer surgery

Future Dreams hold a range of support groups, classes, workshops and events to help you and your carers during your breast cancer diagnosis. These are held both online and in person at the London-based Future Dreams House. To see what’s on offer and to book your place, see here.

To return to the homepage of our Information Hub, click here where you can access more helpful information, practical advice, personal stories and more.

Reviewed February 2023

The information and content provided on this page has been written from a patient’s perspective then reviewed by a breast care nurse and it is intended for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. Please contact your medical team for advice on anything covered in this article and/or in relation to your personal situation. The links and/or recommendations in this article to third-party resources are for your information and we take no responsibility for the content contained in those third-party resources.


Sylvie Henry and Danielle Leslie founders of Future Dreams breast cancer support
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Sylvie and Danielle began Future Dreams with just £100 in 2008. They believed nobody should face breast cancer alone.  Their legacy lives on in Future Dreams House.  We couldn’t continue to fund support services for those touched by breast cancer, raise awareness of breast cancer and promote early diagnosis and advance research into secondary breast cancer without your help. Please consider partnering with us or making a donation.

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