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Treatment: Surgery for Breast Cancer

The aim of surgery is to remove all cancerous tissue. The procedure varies depending on the size and position of the tumour. Two operations are described here: lumpectomy (also known as wide local excision), commonly used to treat small tumours; and mastectomy, sometimes used to treat larger or multiple tumours. The surgeon will also remove some lymph nodes from the armpit. These are checked to see whether the cancer has spread.


In a lumpectomy, the small area of breast tissue containing the tumour is removed, along with a small number of lymph nodes from the armpit. This procedure takes place under general anaesthesia. After the operation, the shape of the breast remains essentially unchanged.

During the procedure

An incision is made in the breast. The tumour and some surrounding tissue are removed. Some of the lymph nodes from the armpit are removed through a separate incision.


In a mastectomy, the whole breast is removed. This operation is used to treat large or multiple cancerous breast tumours. The procedure takes place under general anaesthesia, and you will need to stay in hospital for several days. You may choose to have plastic surgery to reconstruct your breast at the same time as you have the mastectomy or at a later time.

During the procedure

A single incision is made, through which are removed the tumour, all of the breast tissue, and, if necessary, all of the lymph nodes in the armpit. A diagonal scar is left on the chest.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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