Surgery for Breast Cancer
Dealing with breast cancer is difficult enough without the thought of losing one or both breasts as well. Combined with the prospect of losing their hair and the threat of sterility due to radiation treatments, many women may feel as if their very femininity is under attack by this disease – breast surgery isn't always the first option for some.
The first step to understanding undergoing surgery for breast cancer is to inform yourself about the goal of surgery is, what type of surgery you'll receive, and what next steps are required after undergoing breast cancer surgery.
The Goal of Breast Cancer Surgery
Many women (and men) undergo breast cancer surgery for the following reasons:
- Eliminate as much of the cancer as possible.
- Find out whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm.
- Rebuild the breast’s shape after the cancer is removed.
- Relieve the advanced breast cancer symptoms.
Breast Cancer Surgery Options
Depending on your stage of breast cancer, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the cancerous tumor and prevent the disease from spreading. Depending on the size of the lump and its location, you may be offered a lumpectomy or a full mastectomy or remove the cancer.
What Is a Mastectomy?
If a lump is too big to remove, or if the cancer has spread to your whole breast, you will need to have a mastectomy.
A mastectomy is a surgical procedure where a portion of the breast or the entire breast is removed to halt an aggressive form of cancer. A double mastectomy or bilateral mastectomy occurs when both breasts are removed.
In a mastectomy, the whole breast is removed. This can be done in a number of different ways. Some mastectomies remove all of the breast tissue, skin and nipple, while some leave the skin and nipple intact. You can discuss the type of mastectomy which is best for you with your surgeon.
If the cancer has spread to your lymph nodes, you may also need to have these removed. Your lymph nodes are located underneath your armpit and help your body to get rid of waste products. If cancerous cells get into the lymph nodes they can easily spread, so this is a very important part of the operation.
If you have skin cancer, your doctor may have mentioned using radiation therapy as a form of treatment. Learn about radiation therapy for skin cancer here.
What Is a Lumpectomy?
A lumpectomy, also called a wide local excision, can be used to remove a cancerous lump which is small and has not spread to the surrounding breast tissue. The lump itself is removed, along with the surrounding tissue.
After Surgery: Breast Reconstruction
Following a lumpectomy or mastectomy, you can have surgery to reconstruct your breast. This can be done at the same time as the original operation or may be carried out at a later date.
Breast reconstruction can be done using an implant in a procedure similar to breast augmentation. It can also be done using tissue taken from another part of your body such as your back.
Breast Cancer Surgery: Aftercare
If you have a lumpectomy or a mastectomy, you may also need to be treated with either radiotherapy or chemotherapy afterward. This is to ensure that no cancerous cells remain in the breast and reduce the risk of the cancer returning.
Lastly, you should be offered a mammogram 6–12 months after your surgery, and regular annual follow-ups to monitor your condition.
Missing Your Breast(s)? Try Wearing a Mastectomy Bra
Mastectomy bras come with hidden pouches that can hold breast forms or prostheses, replacing the appearance of any lost breasts or breast tissue. This can be comforting to patients who wish to conceal any outward appearance of the surgery.
These supplies can be helpful as the patient goes through physical and psychological healing. Once ready, a woman can then decide whether she wants to explore breast reconstruction or come to accept that her body has changed, but she has survived and is healthy.
Beyond bras and prostheses, there are other mastectomy supplies that allow female patients to get back to enjoying life. Not only is there mastectomy swimwear, but also nightgowns, tank tops, and camisoles so that cancer survivors can engage in activities both in the day and night, while remaining comfortable at the same time.
You Are Still You
Having a mastectomy or lumpectomy is a life-changing event, but with the right advice, supplies, and support, it doesn't have to diminish your quality of life.