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Surgery is usually the first line of attack against breast cancer. This section explains the different types of breast cancer surgery.

Decisions about surgery depend on many factors. You and your doctor will determine the kind of surgery that’s most appropriate for you based on the stage of the cancer, the “personality” of the cancer, and what is acceptable to you in terms of your long-term peace of mind.

The following pages will help you explore your surgery options:

  • In our What to Expect With Any Surgery section, you can learn the basic steps common to all breast cancer surgeries.
  • If you need to choose between surgeries, Mastectomy vs. Lumpectomy explains the pros and cons of each.
  • Lumpectomy, also known as breast-conserving surgery, is the removal of only the tumor and a small amount of surrounding tissue.
  • Mastectomy is the removal of all of the breast tissue. Mastectomy is more refined and less intrusive than it used to be because in most cases, the muscles under the breast are no longer removed.
  • Lymph node removal, or axillary lymph node dissection, can take place during lumpectomy and mastectomy if the biopsy shows that breast cancer has spread outside the milk duct. Some people qualify for the less-invasive sentinel lymph node dissection.
  • Breast reconstruction is the rebuilding of the breast after mastectomy and sometimes lumpectomy. Reconstruction can take place at the same time as cancer-removing surgery, or months to years later. Some women decide not to have reconstruction or opt for a prosthesis instead.
  • Prophylactic mastectomy is preventive removal of the breast to lower the risk of breast cancer in high-risk people.
  • Prophylactic ovary removal is a preventive surgery that lowers the amount of estrogen in the body, making it harder for estrogen to stimulate the development of breast cancer.
  • Cryotherapy, also called cryosurgery, uses extreme cold to freeze and kill cancer cells. Right now, cryotherapy is an experimental treatment for breast cancer.

Join the Conversation


The medical experts for Surgery are:

  • Thomas G. Frazier, M.D., general and breast surgeon, Thomas Jefferson University Health System, Philadelphia, PA
  • Anne L. Rosenberg, M.D., breast surgeon, Thomas Jefferson University Health System, Philadelphia, PA
  • Marisa Weiss, M.D., chief medical officer of; breast radiation oncologist, Lankenau Medical Center, part
    of Main Line Health, a five-hospital health system in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA

These experts are members of the Professional Advisory Board, including more than 70 medical experts in breast cancer-related fields.

Expert Quote

“This is just a roadblock on your way to successful living. You sort of have to figure out how you’re going to get around or get over that roadblock. Our goal with the surgery is to try to maximize the ability of the patient to function. We want to get them back to living.”

— Thomas G. Frazier, M.D.