Surgery for breast cancer

If you have been diagnosed with early or locally advanced breast cancer, you will usually be offered surgery to remove the cancer. In some cases of locally advanced breast cancer, treatment begins with chemotherapy to shrink the tumour before surgery.

Surgery for early breast cancer will be either breast-conserving surgery, where part of the breast is removed, or a mastectomy, where the whole breast is removed. A mastectomy is usually recommended for locally advanced breast cancer.

In most cases, breast surgery also involves removing one or more lymph nodes from the armpit. In some cases, breast reconstruction will be done at the same time as a mastectomy, but it may also be done as a separate operation later.

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Which surgery should I have?

Some women will be offered a choice between breast-conserving surgery and a mastectomy. Men don’t usually have breast-conserving surgery.

Research has shown that breast-conserving surgery, when combined with sentinel node biopsy and followed by radiation therapy, is as effective as mastectomy for most women with early breast cancer. The chance of the cancer coming back in another part of the body is the same with either type of surgery.

The operations have different benefits, risks and side effects. Talk to your doctor about the best option for you.

Types of surgery

How your breasts look after surgery will depend on the type of surgery and a range of individual factors. Your surgeon can show you more examples to help you choose the surgery that is right for you.

breast conserving

Breast-conserving surgery
Two years after surgery to left breast. The surgery was followed by radiation therapy.

Left breast removed, with no reconstruction.

Nipple-sparing mastectomy with implant reconstruction

Nipple-sparing mastectomy with implant reconstruction
Right breast removed with a nipple-sparing mastectomy, followed by reconstruction using an implant. If it is not possible to keep the nipple, there is the option of having a nipple
reconstruction later.

Mastectomy with flap reconstruction

Mastectomy with a flap reconstruction
Right breast removed, followed by reconstruction using tissue from the back. A reconstruction can also be done with tissue from the abdomen, buttock or thigh. Some women choose to have a nipple reconstruction later.

Video: What is surgery?

Watch this short video to learn more about surgery.

This information was last reviewed in August 2018
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