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Types of breast cancer surgery

Find out about the different types of surgery for breast cancer.

Types of surgery

There are many different types of surgery for breast cancer. The type you have depends on:

  • the size of the cancer
  • where the cancer is in your breast
  • the size of your breasts
  • your personal wishes and feelings

Surgery to remove just the area of cancer

Surgery to remove the area of cancer in the breast is called wide local excision or lumpectomy. Doctors may also call it breast conserving surgery.

The surgeon takes away the cancer and a border of healthy tissue all around it. They leave behind as much healthy breast tissue as possible.

You have radiotherapy to the breast after surgery.

Surgery to remove your whole breast

Some women need surgery to remove their whole breast (mastectomy). The surgeon removes the breast tissue (including the skin and nipple) and the tissues that cover the chest muscles.

Very rarely, the surgeon removes the muscles of the chest wall as well. This is called a radical mastectomy.

You may have radiotherapy after a mastectomy if there is a risk of the cancer coming back in the area of your scar.

Breast reconstruction

After mastectomy, you may want breast reconstruction. This means the surgeon creates a new breast shape for you.

Your surgeon will talk to you about the different options for breast reconstruction before your operation.

You may have it at the same time as the operation to remove the breast (immediate reconstruction), or at a later date (delayed reconstruction). 

Removing the lymph nodes

Cancer cells might have spread into the lymph nodes close to the breast. 

Lymph nodes are found in many parts of the body. They filter out bacteria and damaged cells from the lymphatic fluid, and contain cells that fight infection.

Diagram showing the network of lymph nodes in around the breast

Your doctor will check your lymph nodes for cancer cells before or during the operation to remove the breast cancer.

If there are cancer cells in your lymph nodes, your surgeon will remove most or all of the nodes under your armpit. You might have this during a second operation.

Treatment options

Your doctor might give you a choice of treatments. They might offer you a choice between removing the whole breast or having just the area of cancer removed and then having radiotherapy.

How your surgeon does your operation

You have surgery for breast cancer under general anaesthetic. You are asleep the whole time.

Many people now have breast surgery as a day case or go home the following day. If you have breast reconstruction you are more likely to be in hospital for 4 to 7 days.

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.