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Breast Cancer Surgery: Types & Precautions

Breast cancer surgery is one of the major treatments/procedures to treat breast cancer. This surgical procedure involves the elimination of cancer cells with an operation. Breast cancer surgery can be used alone or combined with other treatments like hormone therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and targeted therapy.

This treatment option is suggested to people with a higher risk of breast cancer so that the risk is reduced. Breast cancer surgery includes various procedures, like:

  1. Surgery to remove the complete breast – mastectomy
  2. Surgery to remove surrounding lymph nodes
  3. Surgery to remove some portion of breast tissues – lumpectomy
  4. Surgery after mastectomy for reconstructing the breast

The type of breast cancer surgery that works best for you depends on the stage of cancer, size of cancer and your preferences. Before going for breast cancer surgery, you need to take some time and learn about various procedures recommended by your doctor.

Types of Surgery to Remove Breast Cancer


Breast cancer surgery to remove only the cancer-targeted area is called lumpectomy. Specialists also call this treatment breast-conserving surgery.

In this operation, the surgeon will remove cancer cells while bordering healthy tissues around it. They only leave healthy tissues behind. After this surgery, the patient has to undergo radiotherapy for some time to ensure cancer is removed.


The breast cancer surgery to remove your complete breast is called mastectomy. In this procedure, the surgeon removes the entire breast tissue, including nipple and skin and the tissues covering the chest muscles.

Breast Cancer Surgery To Remove The Lymph Nodes

If the cancer cells have spread to the nearby lymph nodes in the breast, this cancer surgery is required immediately. The lymph nodes are used to filter damaged cells and bacteria from the lymphatic fluid. They also include cells to fight against infection.

A doctor will check the lymph nodes for cancer cells during or before the operation. If cancer cells are present, the surgeon will remove all of the nodes near the breast. It might even require a second operation to remove cancerous lymph nodes.

There are two main types of surgery for removing lymph nodes:

  1. Sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) – This procedure is to remove only the lymph nodes under an arm where cancer is likely to spread first.
  2. Axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) – In this procedure, the surgeon removes many lymph nodes (but less than 20) from under an arm to remove cancer cells.

Breast Reconstruction Surgery

After a mastectomy operation, patients may want their breasts again. This is only possible with breast reconstruction surgery. This means the surgeon will create a new breast structure with this operation.

In specific breast reconstruction surgeries, a patient may want to undergo fat grafting at the affected breast area to correct the dimple-like depressions that are left after surgery. This option, however, depends only on each woman’s specific condition.

There are various types of breast reconstructive surgery but the options depend on your individual preferences and medical condition. Depending on the medical condition, you may choose immediate reconstruction that’s done at the same time as the breast cancer surgery or choose delayed reconstruction that’s done later. The delayed reconstruction is done only after you’re fully recovered from breast cancer surgery.

If you want to get reconstructive surgery done, it is best to consult the best breast surgeon and plastic surgeon before mastectomy. This will give you a clear idea about the total surgical time needed for complete cure. You may even have to wait for reconstructive surgery for some time. But trust the treatment procedure and your health team.

Precautions Before, During and After Breast Surgery

You have to prepare your mind for all the procedures that you need to undergo before, during and after the treatment. While the before and during the surgery process is more of a learning phase and know about the treatment modes. The aftercare is more challenging, as you have to deal with it mentally and physically.

Pain Management

  1. The patients experience pain or discomfort after the procedure. The aim is to assess one’s level of pain and take medication accordingly.
  2. You will be prescribed Vicodin for moderate pain management. Ibuprofen or Tylenol can be added to the medication if the pain is severe.
  3. You may use an icepack for soothing the discomforting area or to reduce swelling.
  4. A small pillow can be positioned to reduce discomfort.

Incision and Dressing Care

  1. Don’t remove the dressing, stitches or steri-strips. It will be removed by the nurse after 7 to 10 days.
  2. You have to shower one day after the drain is out.
  3. Swelling, bruising and low-grade fever is normal for a day or two after surgery.


  1. Avoid any strenuous activity like vigorous exercises and heavy lifting until stitches are removed.
  2. Only involve in normal activities like walking.


  1. Resume regular diet with more fluid intake and water intake.
  2. Drink non-caffeinated beverages and 8 to 10 glasses of water to stay hydrated.
  3. Eat healthy fruits and vegetables to maintain a healthy diet routine.

Follow-Up Care

  1. Do follow-up appointments before and after the surgery to ensure a faster recovery.
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