Surgery is a major component to treat breast cancer. Today’s surgical options use breast-sparing techniques to effectively remove cancer.
According to Linh O’Connor, MD, a general surgeon with Adventist GlenOaks Hospital, the surgery women undergo today is far more conservative – yet equally as effective as the radical mastectomies performed in past generations.
“Because of radiation, many women now have the option of preserving a cosmetically acceptable breast without sacrificing survival,” Dr. O’Connor says. For women today, that means receiving a breast lumpectomy and radiation therapy.
Conserving the breasts with lumpectomy
Although removing cancer cells is the main priority during surgery, many women are also concerned with the cosmetic outcome. During lumpectomy (also called breast conservation surgery), surgeons remove only the tumor and a margin of surrounding tissue. “These days, we use surgical techniques that help minimize scarring,” Dr. O’Connor says. “Some of my patients heal so well that you would never know they had breast surgery.”
According to Dr. O’Connor, up to 80 percent of breast cancer patients are candidates for lumpectomy. Although candidates for lumpectomy once only included women with smaller tumors or early-stage cancers, other medical advancements are allowing women outside this group to undergo lumpectomy. For example, a woman can now take new chemotherapy drugs to shrink large tumors, making them eligible for lumpectomy.
When is mastectomy needed?
With so many women being candidates for lumpectomy, many still opt for mastectomy (or complete breast removal). “Some women are diagnosed and think, ‘I want this to be done with. I never want to have to think about this again,’” Dr. O’Connor explains. Women may also choose mastectomy if they have multiple tumors or don’t want radiation, which is required after lumpectomy.
When it comes to mastectomy, women still have many options, including:
- Modified radical mastectomy, where the breast and underarm lymph nodes are removed
- Simple mastectomy, where only the breast is removed
- Nipple-sparing mastectomy, where the breast is removed except for the nipple
Most women who undergo mastectomy have the option of immediate reconstruction. Learn how this can help women physically and emotionally.
Even after cancer is removed, women continue to see their oncology team to ensure they remain healthy and cancer free. “We have a special relationship with our breast cancer patients because they are with us throughout their lives,” Dr. O’Connor says.
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