Surgery

Surgery overview

Posted by Sara Liyanage on 04 February 2023

A doctor holding a clipboard with a stethoscope.

Here is our super-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 just an overview for you and 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 excellent guide on breast cancer surgery for this website.

Helpful resources and 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

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.

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