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Surgical Procedures for Breast Cancer

  • Amy Scholten, MPH
Publication Type:

Condition InDepth

Surgical Procedures for Breast Cancer

Animation Movie AvailableRelated Media: Mastectomy Lumpectomy

Surgery is mainly used to treat breast cancer. The goal is to remove the cancer and save as much of the breast and its function. Surgery is often one part of a treatment plan. Chemotherapy or radiation therapy may also be included. Chemotherapy can also be used before surgery to shrink the tumor.

Breast-saving Surgeries

Breast-saving surgeries are often used for women in the early stages of cancer. They may be used along with radiation. This surgery involves removing the tumor and a small area of healthy tissue around it. Breast-sparing surgery types include:

  • Lumpectomy
  • Wide excision
  • Segmentectomy
  • Quadrantectomy
  • Partial mastectomy

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Not all women with early stage breast cancer can have these types of surgery. It depends on the tumor and other health conditions.


A mastectomy is the removal of the breast. Sometimes this involves removing lymph nodes. The type will depend on how much the cancer has spread and if breast reconstruction will be done.


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Other Procedures

The lymph nodes are often removed and tested for cancer. This can help find if cancer has spread. The types are:

  • Sentinel node biopsy—A sentinel node is the first lymph node that a tumor drains into. Other nodes are checked until the they are clear from cancer.
  • Axillary node dissection—Many lymph nodes under the arm are removed and checked for cancer. It may be done with breast surgery or at a later date.

When lymph nodes are removed, it can lead to lymphedema. This can cause a backup of fluid into tissue.

Breast Reconstruction

The breast can be reconstructed. This can be done with a mastectomy. Or, it may be done at a later date, or not at all.


  • Breast cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gynecology-and-obstetrics/breast-disorders/breast-cancer.
  • Breast cancer in women. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/breast-cancer-in-women.
  • Surgery for breast cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/treatment/surgery-for-breast-cancer.html.
  • Locoregional therapy and locally advanced breast cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/locoregional-therapy-for-early-and-locally-advanced-breast-cancer.
  • Treatment option overview. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/breast-treatment-pdq#section/_185.


  • Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.