Breast Cancer Surgery

The Lifespan Cancer Institute offers a comprehensive range of procedures for the surgical treatment of breast cancer. Your care team will discuss your options and will recommend the surgical procedure that is most appropriate for you.

Breast conserving surgery aims to keep as much of the breast tissue intact as possible, typically removing a lump or part of the breast, which is the preferred option for women with early stage breast cancer. For those with advanced breast cancer or those who have a high risk of recurrence, a mastectomy to remove the whole breast may be the best course.

During surgery, many women also have either a sentinel node biopsy or axillary node dissection, in which a surgeon removes lymph nodes from the underarm to determine if breast cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes. This procedure is very helpful in planning the treatment to follow surgery.

Surgery is often combined with additional treatments, most often radiation therapy, to destroy any remaining cancer cells and reduce the chances that breast cancer might recur.

Reconstructive Breast Surgery

The Lifespan Cancer Institute offers reconstructive breast surgery for women who have had a mastectomy and do not wish to wear a breast prosthesis. This surgery usually can be performed at the time of breast surgery; however, it can also be performed weeks and even years later, with the same cosmetic result.

During breast reconstruction, a plastic surgeon uses your own breast tissue or an implant to reconstruct the breast, restoring its natural shape. A skin-sparing mastectomy spares the nipple and areola so that they can be included in the reconstruction.

Reconstruction does not impact the chance of the cancer recurring, and would not have any effect on treatment if cancer does recur. Rarely does an implant impede the ability to spot the return of breast cancer.

Few women are not good candidates for breast reconstruction. The choice is individual to every woman, and should be based on your personal needs, lifestyle, medical limitations, etc. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of breast reconstruction with your doctor.

Post-Surgery Care

After your surgery, it's normal to become easily tired for the first few days. Make sure to get plenty of rest. It's also normal to have pain, swelling and redness at the site of your surgery. If it becomes worse, let your doctor know as soon as possible.

Arm Care after Breast Cancer Surgery

Women who have had lymph nodes removed from under the arm, or who have had an axillary lymph node dissection, may experience arm swelling on the side of the surgery. This condition is known as lymphedema.

Ways you can reduce your risk of lymphedema:

  • Have your blood drawn, blood pressure taken and any shots given in the unaffected arm.
  • Promptly wash, treat and dress the affected arm if cut, bitten or burned.
  • Wear loose-fitting rubber gloves when working with household cleaning products or when you have your hands in water for a period of time.
  • Use caution when shaving your underarm area, and consider using an electric razor.
  • Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, especially on your arm and chest.

Exercise

Exercise has physical and emotional benefits. Discuss with your doctor when to start and what type of exercise is right for you. With your doctor's approval, try to get back into your normal routine and activities.

Sleeping

If you're experiencing discomfort, try elevating your arm with a small pillow. This will alleviate pressure and may help you rest better.

Learn more about treatment options for breast cancer