Breast Surgery: FAQs

 
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Learn more about breast surgery by reviewing these frequently asked questions.

Why would I need breast surgery?

Surgery can confirm and treat breast cancer, remove a noncancerous mass in the breast and treat certain types of breast infection. As women age, breast cancer becomes more common. Noncancerous (benign) masses in the breast can happen at any age. For some, antibiotics to treat your breast infection may be an alternative to surgery.

How are problems with my breast diagnosed?

Biopsies can determine if your breast tissue is cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous.

  • Your doctor may order an ultrasound- or mammogram-guided biopsy to take a sample of your breast tissue.
  • A radiologist will make a small incision in your breast and insert a needle to remove some tissue. This will be sent to the pathology lab to be evaluated.
  • Your doctor will receive the results in two to three days, and inform you of them over the phone or at a separate appointment. At this time you will discuss if surgery is necessary.

How do I prepare for surgery?

Discuss anesthesia options, pain management and current medications with your doctor. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before the procedure. Plan to have an adult driver take you home after the surgery, as you will receive medicine that makes it unsafe to drive.

What are risks of surgery?

Risks include infection, swelling, bleeding and scarring.

What is a sentinel lymph node biopsy?

A sentinel lymph node biopsy is a procedure completed during your scheduled breast surgery, to identify and remove the sentinel lymph node. An injected radioactive dye and a blue dye help guide the surgeon during the process. A small incision removes the lymph node. If the sentinel node does not contain cancer cells, your surgeon will not remove additional nodes. If it does, your surgeon may remove additional lymph nodes. Your urine and stool will turn the color blue for a few days; your breast skin may temporarily turn blue.

What is an axillary lymph node dissection?

An axillary lymph node dissection is a procedure to remove multiple lymph nodes from your armpit area. The surgeon makes an incision to remove the lymph node-containing tissue. A pathologist checks for cancer cells in your lymph nodes.

What is a lumpectomy?

A lumpectomy is breast surgery that removes the cancer and a small amount of your healthy tissue around it. Your nurse will insert an intravenous infusion (IV) in your hand or arm with medicine to help you relax. Local anesthetic numbs the area during surgery. At times, general anesthetic is used to put you asleep during the procedure. Most people receive radiation treatment once the lumpectomy is healed and other treatment is complete.

What is a mastectomy?

A mastectomy is breast surgery that removes your entire breast. General anesthetic puts you to sleep during the procedure. Some women choose to have breast reconstruction by a plastic surgeon on the same day or at a later date. You will spend one or two nights in the hospital.