Stephen McCulley, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeon. MBChb, FCS(SA)Plast, FRCS(plast)

Types of surgery for breast cancer

Breast CancerFor women preparing to undergo surgery for breast cancer, it is understandably a worrying period of time. Finding out about the type of procedure that will be carried out can help patients to feel informed and more comfortable about the surgery. It can also help to reduce any possible worries or fears that may be encountered. A discussion with a health professional can help to answer individual queries, but this brief guide will give some information about the types of procedure available.

A breast cancer operation to remove the whole breast is known as a mastectomy. This means removal of all breast tissue and the nipple. If the cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes, this will be the end of the initial surgical procedure. The lymph nodes are under the arm and will be checked for any signs of cancerous cells. If any are found, you will then need further surgery to clear the cancer and prevent it from spreading any further.

If the tumour is small and does not appear to have spread from the breast itself, you may be able to have breast conserving surgery. This means that only the tumour will be removed as well as a small amount of healthy breast tissue that will then be checked for cancerous cells. Again, if no cancerous cells are found in the healthy breast tissue, this could be the end of the surgical procedure.

After surgery you may be offered chemotherapy. A combination of drugs will be used to attack any remaining cancerous cells that were not removed by the surgery and will help to reduce the risk of the cancer recurring. There are common side effects such as hair loss, nausea and tiredness, but this can be eased with medicine prescribed by your doctor that can be taken alongside the chemotherapy.

Radiotherapy may also be needed after surgery and chemotherapy. This is a very short procedure that involves a controlled dosage of radiation being administered to kill any remaining cancerous cells. Side effects may include fatigue irritation of the skin, but your doctor may be able to help with prescribed medicines.

Before any procedure, it is likely that you will have a lot of questions. It is important that your queries are answered to help you to stay informed and ease your worries. A health professional will be available to discuss any questions you may have, but for more general information about breast cancer treatments, visit the NHS website.

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