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Treatments & Side Effects

Surgery

Four types of surgery are possible for breast cancer:  lumpectomy, mastectomy, prophylactic mastectomy and lymph node surgery.

Lumpectomy - A lumpectomy is the removal of the tumour in the breast and some of the surrounding tissue.  For patients with a tumour smaller than 4 cm, studies have shown that lumpectomy is just as effective as a mastectomy. 

Mastectomy -  A mastectomy is the surgical removal of an entire breast. For some women, a mastectomy can provide greater peace of mind. However, a mastectomy is more extensive and longer procedure.  It also results in greater post-surgery side effects and a longer recovery time.

Prophylactic mastectomy - A prophylactic mastectomy is a preventative mastectomy performed before any cancer develops.  It is offered to women with a high risk of breast cancer.  Visit our Breast Cancer Basics section for more information about high risk breast cancer.

Lymph node surgery -  Lymph nodes filter out bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, and other unwanted substances, and make sure these are safely eliminated from the body.  The lymph nodes are a common trap for cancer cells that may have left the breast and are heading for other parts of the body.  Therefore, a surgeon will often remove lymph nodes from the armpit to test whether they contain cancer.  In sentinel node biopsy, the surgeon removes just a few of the lymph nodes that are the most likely to contain cancer cells.  An axillary node dissection is more extensive, involving more lymph nodes, and is more common for larger tumours.  Lymph node surgery is performed at the same time as a mastectomy or during or after a lumpectomy.  Your doctor will use the results of lymph node surgery to determine treatment options.

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