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Breast Cancer Surgery

What is breast cancer surgery?

Surgery is usually the first line of treatment against breast cancer. This section explains the different types of breast cancer surgery.

What are the indications of breast cancer surgery?

Decisions about surgery depend on many factors such as the stage of the cancer, the aggressiveness of the cancer, and what is acceptable to you in terms of your long-term peace of mind.

What are the different breast cancer surgeries?

  • Lumpectomy, also known as breast-conserving surgery, is the removal of only the tumor and a small amount of surrounding tissue.
  • Mastectomy is the removal of all the breast tissue. Mastectomy is more refined and less intrusive than it used to be because in most cases, the muscles under the breast are no longer removed.
  • Sentinel lymph node dissection is used for most early breast cancers to assess whether there has been spread to the lymph nodes in the armpit.
  • Axillary Lymph Node Dissection is the removal of most lymph nodes in the armpit. This can take place during lumpectomy or mastectomy if the biopsy shows that breast cancer has spread outside breast.
  • Breast reconstruction is the rebuilding of the breast after mastectomy and sometimes lumpectomy. Reconstruction can take place at the same time as cancer-removing surgery, or months to years later. Some women decide not to have reconstruction or opt for a prosthesis instead.

What are the potential complications of breast cancer surgery?

Complication specific to breast surgery include:

  • Bleeding – an uncommon complication of breast surgery that may require further surgery to either evacuate a haematoma(blood clot) or control the bleeding.
  • Infection - wound infections can usually be managed with antibiotics.
  • Seroma formation – fluid can build up under the wound. When this occurs, it does not usually cause symptoms, but when it does it may require drainage with a needle.
  • Lymphoedema – disruption of the lymph glands may result in swelling in the arm.

How long does it take to recover from breast cancer surgery?

If you are having a lumpectomy with no lymph node dissection, it's likely that your surgery will be done as a “day only” operation. This means that you can go home on the same day you have your surgery. Mastectomy and lumpectomy with lymph node dissection are more invasive surgeries and require a hospital stay for several days.

Early activity after surgery has shown to improve patient recovery, such as:

  • Getting out of bed within a few hours after surgery.
  • Performing arm exercises the morning after surgery to prevent stiffness.
  • Resume your normal activities a few days after lumpectomy and a few weeks after mastectomy.

What are the results from breast cancer surgery?

Results from the surgery are generally available after 7 days. These will be discussed at the first post-operative consultation and guide on-going management of the cancer. This includes the need for further surgery, radiotherapy, hormonal therapy and chemotherapy.