Surgical Options for Diagnosing and Treating Breast Cancer


Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, affecting millions globally. Early detection and treatment are crucial for a positive outcome. Surgery plays a vital role in both diagnosing and treating breast cancer, offering a range of options depending on the specific circumstances. This article explores the different surgical procedures available to address breast cancer.

The Role of Biopsy

Before definitive treatment plans are established, a biopsy is often the first surgical step in diagnosing breast cancer. This minimally invasive procedure involves extracting a small tissue sample from the suspicious area in the breast.

Video Source

The sample is then analyzed by a pathologist to determine the presence and type of cancer cells. Biopsies can be performed using needles or scalpels, depending on the location and size of the abnormality. It’s important to remember that a biopsy alone doesn’t confirm cancer; a positive result necessitates further evaluation and treatment decisions.

Surgical Treatments for Breast Cancer

Following a confirmed diagnosis, the surgical approach for breast cancer treatment can be categorized into two main options: breast-conserving surgery and mastectomy.

  • Breast-Conserving Surgery (BCS): This procedure aims to remove the cancerous tumor while preserving as much healthy breast tissue as possible. A lumpectomy is the most common form of BCS, where the surgeon removes the tumor and a margin of surrounding healthy tissue. The amount of tissue removed depends on various factors, including tumor size, location, and spread. Lumpectomy is typically followed by radiation therapy to eliminate any remaining cancer cells and reduce the risk of recurrence. BCS offers several benefits, including a faster recovery time, a more natural appearance of the breast, and a potentially lower psychological impact compared to mastectomy.
  • Mastectomy: This surgery involves removing the entire affected breast. There are different types of mastectomies, each offering varying degrees of tissue removal:
    • Simple Mastectomy: This procedure removes the entire breast tissue, including the nipple and areola.
    • Skin-Sparing Mastectomy: This technique aims to preserve the overlying skin of the breast while removing all breast tissue. The nipple and areola may or may not be saved depending on the location of the cancer.
    • Nipple-Sparing Mastectomy: This surgery removes the entire breast tissue but preserves the nipple and areola. It’s only an option if the cancer isn’t located near the nipple and areola.

The decision between BCS and mastectomy is a complex one, taking into account various factors like the type and stage of cancer, tumor size and location, personal preferences regarding breast appearance, and overall health. Both options offer effective cancer control, and the choice should be made in consultation with a breast cancer specialist after considering all individual circumstances.

Lymph Node Evaluation

In addition to removing the tumor, surgery often involves evaluating the lymph nodes in the armpit (axillary lymph nodes) for the presence of cancer cells. This assessment helps determine if the cancer has spread beyond the breast. Two main procedures are used:

  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy: This minimally invasive technique identifies and removes the first lymph node(s) to which the cancer is most likely to spread. If the sentinel node(s) are free of cancer, it suggests a lower risk of the cancer having spread further.
  • Axillary Lymph Node Dissection: This procedure removes a group of lymph nodes in the armpit for examination. This approach is more extensive than a sentinel lymph node biopsy but provides a more comprehensive picture of lymph node involvement.

The choice between these procedures depends on various factors, including tumor size, type, and stage.

Breast Reconstruction

Following mastectomy, some women may choose breast reconstruction surgery to restore the shape and appearance of the breast. This can be a personal and empowering decision, helping to improve self-esteem and body image. Reconstruction options can involve using implants, the patient’s own tissue (flap surgery), or a combination of both. The timing and type of reconstruction surgery depend on individual preferences and overall health.

Beyond Surgery: Adjuvant Therapies

Surgery is often just one part of a comprehensive breast cancer treatment plan. Depending on the specific characteristics of the cancer, additional treatments like radiation therapy and systemic therapy (such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or immunotherapy for cancer) might be recommended. Radiation therapy uses targeted high-energy rays to destroy any remaining cancer cells and reduce the risk of recurrence. Systemic therapy can be administered through pills, injections, or intravenously to target cancer cells throughout the body.

Immunotherapy for cancer is a rapidly evolving treatment approach that harnesses the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells. Immunotherapy drugs work by stimulating the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells more effectively. While immunotherapy for cancer is not currently a first-line treatment for most breast cancers, it holds promise for specific types or in recurrent cases.


Surgical options play a vital role in both diagnosing and treating breast cancer. From the initial biopsy to tumor removal and potential reconstruction, surgery offers a range of tools to address the disease. The specific approach is tailored to each individual based on factors such as the type and stage of cancer, tumor characteristics, and personal preferences.


Scroll to Top