Breast Cancer Surgery

One common treatment for breast cancer is surgery. A procedure is performed to remove all of the cancer in the breast. Women have several surgical options, and the type of surgery can depend on a few factors, such as:

  • The size and location of the tumor.
  • The type of breast cancer.
  • If the cancer has spread within the breast, outside of the breast to the lymph nodes, or to other parts of the body.
  • The size of the breast.

Breast-Conserving Surgery

This type of surgery is also called a lumpectomy. Your surgeon takes out only the cancer lump and an edge (margin) of healthy tissue around it, while the breast itself remains intact.

If you are a woman with small breast cancer that has not spread, breast-conserving surgery may be a preferred option for you. Many women prefer this type of surgery instead of having their whole breast removed.

A lumpectomy is the removal of the breast cancer and a portion of normal tissue around the breast cancer. Following the procedure, radiation therapy is recommended in order to kill cancer cells that may not have been removed during the surgery.



Mastectomy is surgery to remove the entire breast. The doctor may advise a mastectomy for women with any of the following:

  • Cancer that is too large for breast conservation or is in multiple locations in the breast.
  • Previous radiation therapy to the affected breast or chest area.
  • Two or more areas of cancer in the same breast that are too far apart to be removed with one incision.
  • Breast that is very small and tumor that is large.
  • Inflammatory breast cancer.
  • Connective tissue disease(s) for which there is a contraindication to radiation therapy.
  • A current pregnancy, because radiation normally needed after breast-conserving surgery could harm the unborn baby.
  • Unable to obtain clear surgical margins after lumpectomy.

There are three types of mastectomy.

  1. Total (or simple) mastectomy. This type removes the whole breast and often the lining over the chest muscle. 
  2. Modified radical mastectomy. This type removes the whole breast, most of the lymph nodes under the arm, and often the lining over the chest muscles.
  3. Radical mastectomy.This is also called a Halsted radical mastectomy. This type of mastectomy is reserved for rare cases. The surgeon removes the breast, the lymph nodes under the arm, the lining over the chest muscles, and both of the chest muscles under the breast. 
simple-mastectomyModified Radical Mastectomy

Learn More

For more information on diagnosis, treatment and more, visit our breast cancer pages.

NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center - A Cancer Center Designated by the National Cancer Institute

Markey Cancer Center is designated by the National Cancer Institute as a Comprehensive Cancer Center – a distinction that recognizes our commitment to accelerating precision cancer research and care to patients. We are the first and only NCI-Comprehensive Cancer Center in Kentucky, and one of 56 in the nation.