The information on this page was reviewed and approved by
Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on July 22, 2021.

Breast cancer surgery

Whenever possible, and depending on individual preferences, our surgeons perform breast-conserving surgery (also known as breast conservation therapy). We also provide a range of advanced surgical techniques for breast reconstruction.

We recognize that breast cancer surgery is a personal decision that can often be complex and overwhelming. Your care team at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) will help you understand all your breast cancer surgery options so you can decide on an individualized treatment plan tailored to you and your needs.

Breast cancer surgeries include:

Breast conservation therapy (lumpectomy): This procedure removes a tumor from the breast. A lumpectomy differs from a mastectomy, which removes the entire breast. Women who undergo a lumpectomy are usually recommended to receive radiation therapy following surgery to help prevent recurrence. Some women are candidates for intraoperative radiation therapy, which typically limits the amount of radiation treatments needed after surgery. Commonly referred to as breast conservation therapy, a lumpectomy when coupled with radiation therapy is designed to allow a woman to keep her breast.

Mastectomy: This is the surgical removal of all the breast tissue. If breast conservation therapy is not a viable option, mastectomy may be recommended. Women who have cancer in multiple areas of the breast and/or large tumors relative to the size of the breast are typically recommended to undergo a mastectomy. Women with certain genetic mutations (BRCA1 or BRCA2) may also be recommended for a mastectomy.

In many instances, much of the breast skin and even the nipple may be spared to improve the outcome of reconstruction.

There are several different types of mastectomy:

  • Nipple-sparing mastectomy, where only the breast tissue is removed
  • Skin-sparing mastectomy, where the breast tissue is removed with the nipple and areola
  • Total (simple) mastectomy, where the breast tissue and skin are removed
  • Modified radical mastectomy, where the whole breast is removed, along with the lymph nodes under the arm

Factors such as breast size, breast shape, type of cancer and the location of cancer in the breast and/or lymph nodes will determine which type of mastectomy is performed. Your breast surgeon will guide you through the decision-making process. 

Learn about breast reconstruction after mastectomy

Sentinel lymph node biopsy: Depending on the stage of the breast cancer, your surgeon may recommend an axillary sentinel lymph node biopsy as part of your breast cancer surgery.

In an axillary sentinel lymph node, the surgeon removes the first lymph nodes under the arm (axilla) to which breast cancer cells may spread from the primary tumor location.

This procedure:

  • Helps to evaluate the extent of disease and assists the oncologist in determining whether chemotherapy or radiation therapy is required
  • Helps the surgeon determine whether an axillary lymph node dissection is needed
  • May potentially avoid unnecessary removal of lymph nodes in the axilla, helping to reduce both the length of surgery and the risk of developing lymphedema, a condition in which fluids builds up in the extremities

Next topic: What are the statistics about breast cancer?