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Breast Cancer Surgery

Written by Amy Hall
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Understanding Breast Cancer Surgery

Breast cancer surgery used to involve a procedure called a radical mastectomy. No matter what stage of cancer you had, mastectomy was the only option. Catching a cancer early didn't give you the benefit of having a less radical, more cosmetically acceptable treatment option. Luckily, things have changed a great deal since then.

Mastectomy no longer has to be as extensive, scarring, or disfiguring as it once was. Every case of breast cancer is different, and each case can have different surgery. In a "simple" or "total" mastectomy, the surgeon removes the entire breast but does not take out any axillary lymph nodes (nodes in the underarm area, called the axilla). No muscles are removed from beneath your breast. Occasionally, lymph nodes may be removed because they are actually located within the breast tissue taken during surgery.

Other Forms of Surgery

There is more than one type of breast cancer surgery. A modified radical mastectomy removes the entire breast and includes a procedure called axillary dissection, in which levels 1 and 2 (of three levels) of the axillary lymph nodes in the underarm area are also removed. Most women who have mastectomies today have modified radical mastectomies.

Finally, a radical mastectomy includes the removal of the entire breast, all underarm lymph nodes, and chest wall muscles under the breast. Although it was common in the past, radical mastectomy is now rarely performed because modified radical mastectomy has proven to be just as effective and less disfiguring. Today, radical mastectomy is recommended only when cancer has spread to the chest muscles under the breast.

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