Depending on the location and size of your breast tumor, surgery will likely be recommended to remove it. This can be accomplished by only removing the tumor itself (termed breast conservation, or lumpectomy), or by removing the entire breast (mastectomy). Treatments after surgery can vary depending on the surgery you decide is best for you. Reconstruction also varies depending on the type of surgery you decide to pursue. To learn more about reconstruction after lumpectomy, please click here. To learn more about reconstruction after mastectomy, please click here.
Your breast surgeon will likely also obtain a lymph node biopsy at the time of surgery. Sentinal node biopsies allow the breast surgeon to take only a few lymph nodes that are most indicative of the extent of involvement. Information about lymph node involvement can then be used to direct further treatment. Lymph biopsies are usually performed through a small separate incision in the armpit.
Axillary node dissection may also be performed at the time of your breast surgery depending on cancer involvement in the lymph nodes in the armpit. Your breast surgeon will talk to you about this prior to surgery. Axillary node dissection is also most commonly performed through a small incision in the armpit.
Radiation therapy is performed in most women who opt for lumpectomy or breast conservation surgery, and is also performed in about one-third of women having mastectomy. The need for radiation therapy is determined based on the size of your tumor, it’s borders, and lymph node involvement. It is not uncommon that the need for radiation therapy is unknown prior to mastectomy. Once final pathology is obtained, a plan for radiation therapy will be made with your care team. Radiation therapy is used to reduce locoregional recurrence. The treatment itself usually occurs most days of the week over 5-6 weeks.
In addition to surgery, chemotherapy may be recommended to reduce the risk for spread of cancer to other parts of your body. This therapy usually takes place after surgery, but may occur prior to surgery for some women depending on the tumor and lymph node status. Chemotherapy drugs may vary, and length of treatment also varies between women, but often involves multiple treatments performed every 1-3 weeks over the course of a few months.