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After a breast cancer diagnosis, patients meet with a surgeon to discuss different surgical options. The type of surgery depends on a number of factors, including the size of cancer and if it has spread. All surgeries come with the risk of complications. Health care providers will discuss these risks with each patient so an informed decision can be made.

Surgical options include the following:

Lumpectomy - The surgical removal of the tumor where as much breast tissue is spared as possible. For some types of breast cancer caught in an early stage, lumpectomy is the only treatment needed.

Mastectomy - The surgical removal of the entire breast and surrounding tissue. There are different types of mastectomies:

  • A simple mastectomy, also called total mastectomy, is when the entire breast, nipple, and areola are removed.
  • A modified radical mastectomy, in which a simple mastectomy is combined with removal of lymph nodes under the arm. See below.
  • A total skin sparing mastectomy is when the entire skin envelope, including the nipple and areola, are preserved. Not all patients qualify for this procedure. This procedure is combined with breast reconstruction. See below.

Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy - A radio-labeled dye is injected into the breast to allow the surgeon to find the lymph nodes in the armpit that are most likely to have cancer in them. If these do not contain cancer cells, other lymph nodes generally do not need to be removed.

Axillary Lymph Node Dissection - Removal of more of the lymph nodes from a wider area in the armpit. This would usually be done if the sentinel lymph node contains cancer, or if the sentinel lymph node cannot be identified.

For more information about breast cancer and surgical options, watch our series of breast cancer videos with Dr. Cindy Matsen