Breast Cancer Surgery

Women with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) or breast cancer that can be removed with surgery have two main options: breast-sparing surgery and mastectomy. After diagnosis, you and your breast cancer treatment team including your oncologist(s), a breast cancer surgeon and many times a radiation oncologist, will meet and discuss the best option for you, including the type and the timing of the surgery. Your doctor will also discuss the benefits and risks, how surgery may alter the way you look, and whether or not you’ll need additional treatment after surgery. 

Types of Breast Cancer Surgery

Breast-Sparing Surgery

Breast-sparing surgery means the surgeon removes only the cancerous mass and some normal tissue surrounding it. The surgeon will also typically remove one or more lymph nodes from under your arm to test them and determine if the cancer has spread into your lymph system. This determination is likely to affect your treatment options.

With breast-sparing surgery, your breast will typically look like it did prior to surgery. Other words for breast-sparing surgery include: 

  • Lumpectomy
  • Partial mastectomy
  • Segmental mastectomy
  • Breast-conserving surgery

Almost all women also receive radiation therapy after a lumpectomy. The main goal of this treatment is to keep cancer from recurring in the same breast. Some women will also need chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and/or targeted therapy.


In a mastectomy, the surgeon removes the whole breast that contains the cancer. There are two main types of mastectomy: 

  • Total (simple) mastectomy, where the surgeon removes your whole breast. Lymph nodes are also typically taken out from under your arm. They are then tested to see if the cancer has affected the lymph system.
  • Modified radical mastectomy, where the surgeon removes your whole breast, many of the lymph nodes under your arm, and the lining over your chest muscles. A small chest muscle also may be taken out to make it easier to remove the lymph nodes. 

Some women will also need radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and/or targeted therapy after having a mastectomy. 

If you choose to have a mastectomy, you may wish to wear a prosthesis (breast-like form) in your bra or have breast reconstruction surgery, which is surgery to rebuild the shape of the breast.