What does a breast cancer surgery look like?

what does breast cancer surgery look likeMore often than not, when a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, she can expect to undergo some type of surgery. The most common surgical procedures for breast cancer patients include:

  • Partial Mastectomy – Also known as breast-conserving surgery or lumpectomy, the goal of this procedure is to remove only the part of the breast containing the cancer and some surrounding normal tissue. The amount of the breast removed is dependent upon size and location of the tumor.
  • Mastectomy – There are two types of mastectomy procedures: 1) Simple Mastectomy where the entire breast, including the nipple is removed and 2) Skin-Sparing Mastectomy where most of the skin is removed but the nipple and areola are left allowing for a more immediate reconstruction.

There is no clear-cut right or wrong approach to treatment options. Generally speaking, survival and recurrence rates are about the same whether the patient chooses a partial or full mastectomy. Ultimately, it comes down to patient preference and what will make them most comfortable. The American Cancer Society offers some great questions to consider when faced with the choice for breast cancer treatment:

  • How will you feel about losing your breast?
  • How will you feel about getting radiation therapy?
  • How will you feel about having more surgery to reconstruct your breast after having a mastectomy?

Often during breast cancer surgery, your physician will perform lymph node surgery to determine if the cancer has spread. The presence of cancer cells in the lymph nodes, or lack thereof, will help determine treatment post surgery. The two main types of lymph node surgery accompanying breast cancer surgery are:

  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy – A radioactive substance or blue dye is injected into the tumor during this procedure to identify the lymph nodes most likely to have the presence of cancer, should the tumor have spread. These are called the sentinel nodes. The sentinel nodes are removed and most often checked immediately for the presence of cancer. If the cancer is found to have spread, your physician may opt to go ahead and perform an axillary lymph node dissection at that time or recommend a later procedure.
  • Axillary Lymph Node Dissection – During this procedure, lymph nodes from under the arm are removed and viewed under a microscope to determine if cancer is present. This requires the removal of more lymph nodes than the sentinel lymph node biopsy and has a higher risk for complications.

Your schedule for the day of your procedure will vary depending on the treatment plan designed specifically for you. For a mastectomy you can expect to stay overnight in the hospital.  A partial mastectomy is usually done as an outpatient surgery and you can expect to spend 5 to 6 hours at the hospital.

Regardless, you will follow up with your surgeon one-week post surgery. As with most medical procedures, patients are not allowed to eat or drink after midnight the evening prior to the procedure and patient’s should have a driver to get them home safely from the hospital. Patients are given specific instructions upon discharge at the hospital for recovery, which will include limitations on strenuous physical activity and driving restrictions until the patient is no longer using pain medications.

At Premier Surgical Associates, we offer our patients individualized options for breast cancer treatment and partner with them to chart the best possible course of care. We utilize a team approach for breast treatment which conferences weekly to discuss the best and most comprehensive ongoing plan for each patient’s care. Our specialty team of experts includes:

  • Board-Certified Surgeons
  • Radiologists
  • Medical Oncologists
  • Radiation Therapists
  • Pathologists
  • Reconstructive Surgeons
  • Genetic Counselors

Learn more about your options for breast cancer surgery and the Premier Surgical Associate physicians at our website.

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