Did you know about 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime? This statistic may be unsettling to you, but thankfully there is a myriad of procedures available to combat breast cancer.
Breast surgery is done to remove cancer while it is still in your breast. Three surgical procedures are typically used to remove tumors due to breast cancer. The procedure your doctor will use depends on the size and severity of the tumor or tumors in your breast or breasts.
Why Breast Surgery?
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, a lumpectomy (also known as a partial mastectomy) may be the right procedure for you. This surgery preserves your breast; the surgeon removes your tumor along with some of the breast tissue around it. You will most likely be able to return home the same day as the procedure. Some people even choose to have a numbing local anesthesia instead of being “put under” with general anesthesia. Women who have this type of breast cancer surgery normally have a single small tumor that’s less than five centimeters in diameter, have enough breast tissue so that the removal of some tissue around the tumor won’t leave the breast misshapen, and are medically able to get follow-up surgeries and radiation treatment if needed. Getting radiation after your lumpectomy is typical; it is a combo treatment that helps you live as long as if you had a total removal of your breast. The difference is the cosmetic result. During the surgery, your doctor may check your lymph nodes, and a radioactive blue dye is injected into the area surrounding the tumor. The dye travels the same path the cancer cells take. This dye helps the doctor spot any lymph nodes that need to be removed and tested. Once your necessary breast tissue and lymph nodes are removed, they are sent to a lab where they will be tested to identify the type of tumor, how the disease has spread, and whether hormones fuel your cancer. While recovering, call your doctor immediately if you notice swelling in your arm or hand, a buildup of fluid under your skin, redness, or any symptoms of infection. However, some factors can indicate this procedure is not for you. These factors include having multiple tumors in your breast, having very large tumors that spread to your lymph nodes, having previous radiation to your breast, or pregnancy. Before your surgery, your doctor should give you specific instructions on how you can prepare and what you should avoid in the days before your surgery. They will also give you an overview of the procedure and information about recovery and any follow-up care you may need.
What Does Breast Surgery Entail?
During a total mastectomy, the doctor will remove your entire breast. This procedure is used for further cancer prevention or when your cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes.
A modified radical mastectomy is used to treat early-stage breast cancer that has spread to your lymph nodes. During this procedure, the surgeon removes your breast, including the skin, breast tissue, areola, nipple, and most lymph nodes under your arm. The lining of your large muscle in your chest (pectoralis major) is removed, but the muscle itself is left in place. This surgery takes between 2 and 4 hours. After you are “put under” general anesthesia, the surgeon will make an incision across one side of your chest. Your skin is pulled back, and the doctor will remove your entire breast tissue, along with the lining of your pectoralis major. The doctor will also remove some of the lymph nodes under your arm. These removed lymph nodes are sent to a lab and tested for cancer. The goal of the surgery is to remove your cancer but keep as much of your skin and tissues as possible so that if you choose to you can have breast reconstruction surgery. Like every surgery, MRM comes with risks. Bleeding, infection, arm swelling, pockets of fluid forming underneath your incision, and risks that originate from the general anesthetic used. In some cases, you may experience numbness in the upper arm after surgery. This numbness is caused by damage to small nerves in the lymph node area, but don’t worry too much, there is a good chance you will regain most of the feeling in your arm over time.
After the surgery, you will need to stay in the hospital for one or two nights. Tubes of thin plastic will be placed in your breast area and attached to a small suction device. These tubes help drain any fluid that is left inside of you. These drains need to be kept in for about a week. You will feel tired after surgery, and the pain medication your doctor prescribes will contribute to that tiredness as well. But this is the time to rest. You need to take it easy for at least two weeks after breast surgery. Radiation may be recommended to you by your doctor and will help kill any of your remaining cancer cells.
If your condition requires advanced treatments beyond your general surgeon’s expertise, your surgeon may refer you to a surgeon with more specialized training.
However, many general surgeons go on to get additional board certifications in surgical specialties including pediatric surgery, bariatric surgery, vascular surgery, gynecology, and urology, just to name a few.
Additionally, a general surgeon can recognize and provide surgical and non-surgical treatment of a multitude of conditions related to management of pain, weight loss, geriatrics and chronic diseases.
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