October 01, 2019

Breast cancer surgery

Know your options

Knowing the difference between lumpectomy and mastectomy — and their implications — can help bring a sense of calm and control to breast cancer decision making. New approaches to cancer removal can preserve a more natural breast appearance even when mastectomy is performed.

Breast cancer surgery

The news hit hard. During her annual mammogram, your sister learned that she has breast cancer. And now she faces a challenging decision: How should it be treated? For many women, the question brings an unexpected layer of complexity to an already stressful process.

Most women with cancer that's confined to the breast can have the tumor removed surgically via one of two methods. One method, lumpectomy, keeps the unaffected part of the breast intact. The other method, mastectomy, may remove greater than 95% of the breast. The two methods can be equally effective in treating cancerous tumors, but the procedures themselves — and what follows after surgery — are somewhat different.

Until the 1980s, breast cancer was almost always treated with mastectomy. But researchers learned that smaller operations to remove the breast cancer — with or without using postoperative radiation — could treat the disease as successfully as a mastectomy. The most important finding of their studies was that survival — the length of time lived after diagnosis — was the same with lumpectomy or mastectomy.

Knowing the difference between these options — and their implications — can help bring a sense of calm and control to a difficult decision-making process. In addition, it's important to be aware of new approaches that can preserve a more natural breast appearance even when mastectomy is performed.

When lumpectomy isn't an...