Most of us know someone who has been through breast cancer treatment. What you might not know is that your sister’s or best friend’s treatment choices were unique to each of them. With breast cancer, there isn’t one clear option.

“When it comes to breast cancer surgery we tailor to each individual’s circumstances,” says a TMH general surgeon, with special training in breast cancer surgery.

The provider explains that different options are available depending on the size of the tumor, where it exists, if it’s early or late stage, if there is lymph node involvement, and so on.

“The first step after we suspect cancer from diagnostic tests is to biopsy the area. A biopsy involves taking a sample of breast tissue for testing, telling us if cancer is present,” the general surgeon adds.

Lumpectomy or Mastectomy

When facing breast cancer, most women must decide between a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. With a lumpectomy, just the portion of the breast that contains the tumor and surrounding tissue are taken. A mastectomy is the removal of the entire breast.

The choice between the two depends on the size and location of the tumor, the size of the breast, whether or not you want to have radiation, and more. When the cancer is near the nipple a lumpectomy might not be an option.

“Studies show that if you have a lumpectomy without radiation you’ll have a higher chance for reoccurrence. While a surgeon may get the mass out, there could be wayward cancer cells still in the breast that are destroyed by radiation,” says the TMH general surgeon.

Recent studies are showing that the survival rates are similar for lumpectomies plus radiation and mastectomies.

“At the end of the day, getting the cancer out is the main goal, but I consider cosmetics and make cuts in a way that make the surgery minimally deforming. Often with a lumpectomy it’s hard to tell after healing that surgery has been done, and with a mastectomy, there are good reconstruction options,” states the TMH general surgeon.

Radiation Options

When choosing a type of breast cancer surgery, you’ll also have to consider radiation. If you have a lumpectomy, you will likely have radiation. While radiation treatments are not available at TMH, they are available at St. Mary’s—including some that make the travel and time away from home reasonable.

If you have an early stage cancer without affected lymph nodes, and you choose a mastectomy, radiation is likely unnecessary.