Treatment Options

Cancer research is advancing quickly, and new treatment options are being developed all the time. A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer is called an oncologist. Your oncologist will help you and your family decide which options are best.

In addition to surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, biological therapy and hormone therapy are the most common treatment methods for breast cancer. Clinical trials may also be available.

Common Breast Cancer Surgeries

Breast-conserving Surgery. During breast-conserving surgery (also called lumpectomy, segmental mastectomy and partial mastectomy), the surgeon removes the tumor and some tissue around it but not the entire breast. Immediately after surgery, the space from where the tissue was taken fills with fluid. It is not unusual to hear a gurgling sound. This will go away as the fluid is absorbed and tissue fills the space. The survival outcome for breast conservation surgery is the same as for a mastectomy.

Total Mastectomy. In a total, or simple, mastectomy, the surgeon removes the entire breast.

Modified Radical Mastectomy. In a modified radical mastectomy, the surgeon removes the entire breast, including the skin, areola, nipple and remove axillary lymph nodes (lymph nodes located in the armpit).

During surgery, your surgeon may perform a sentinel node biopsy to determine if the cancer has spread to the axillary lymph nodes. The sentinel lymph node is the first axillary lymph node that will collect cancerous cells if the cancer has spread. A radioactive dye is injected around the nipple after the area is locally anesthetized. The dye drains into the lymph system. The surgeon removes the first lymph node the dye drains to and may remove one or two more. If cancer cells are present, the surgeon performs an axillary node dissection.

Side effects of a sentinel node biopsy may include pain or bruising at the biopsy site and the rare possibility of an allergic reaction to the dye. Temporary discoloration of the stool, urine or skin is common.

Breast Reconstruction. Reconstructive surgery is plastic surgery that rebuilds the shape of the breast. It may be done at the same time as a mastectomy or later. Many oncologists prefer it be done later so the healing process doesn’t interfere with other treatments. There are many types of breast reconstruction, so you may wish to see a plastic surgeon before your cancer surgery.