Breast cancer occurs because of the excessive and uncontrolled growth of breast cells. It can involve any part of the breast, including lobules, ducts, and connective tissues. These cancerous cells can spread to the surrounding tissues via blood vessels and lymphatics.
Causes of breast cancer
- Advanced age
- Family history of breast cancer
- Past medical history of cancer
- Benign breast lump
- Excessive exposure to estrogen
Type of breast cancers
- Invasive ductal carcinoma: It begins in the ducts and can also spread to other parts
of the breast.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma: It begins in lobules and spreads to adjacent breast tissues.
Symptoms of breast cancer
Symptoms of breast cancer can vary in patients. The most common symptoms include:
- Swelling in some parts of the breast
- Irritation of breast skin
- Redness in breast tissues
- Breast pain or pain in the nipple area
- Change in the size and shape of the breast
- Lump in the breast or underarm
- For the diagnosis of breast cancer, examinations and tests are performed. This examination focuses on identifying lump size, changes in overlying skin, and any changes in adjacent lymph nodes.
- The advanced forms of diagnosis aids include mammograms, ultrasounds, MRI of the breast, and the X-ray of adjacent ductal tissues.
What is breast cancer surgery?
Once breast cancer is detected or diagnosed, surgical treatment plans need to be made to remove the cancer and reduce its chances of returning.
The various surgical techniques differ in how much breast tissue is removed with the tumor. The technique used depends on how big the tumor is, where it is located, and whether it has spread (metastasized). The surgeon often removes some axillary (underarm) lymph nodes as part of the procedure; the lymph nodes are then tested to see if they have any cancer cells. This is done to plan your treatment after surgery.
The breast surgeon will discuss your surgery options with you before the procedure. The surgeon may recommend a specific surgical procedure for you based on the size, location, or type of breast cancer. Some of the procedures the physician may discuss with you include lumpectomy, simple or total mastectomy, and modified radical mastectomy.
What are the surgical options for breast cancer?
There are various surgical techniques that differ in how much breast tissue is removed with the tumor. The technique depends on how big the tumor is, its location, whether it has spread (metastasized), and your personal feelings. The surgeon often removes some axillary (underarm) lymph nodes as part of the operation; the lymph nodes are then tested to see if they have any cancer cells. This is done to plan your treatment after surgery.
Some of the procedures include lumpectomy, simple or total mastectomy, and modified radical mastectomy.
This is also referred to as partial mastectomy. The surgeon removes the cancerous area and a surrounding margin of normal tissue. A second incision (cut) may be made to remove lymph nodes. This treatment tries to save as much of the normal breast as possible.
After the lumpectomy, the patient usually has a 4-5-week course of radiation therapy to treat the remaining breast tissue. (Sometimes, a 3-week course of radiation or even a one-time dose of intraoperative radiation therapy can be offered). Most women with small, early-stage breast cancers are suitable candidates for lumpectomy.
Women who usually are not eligible for a lumpectomy include those who:
- Have already had radiation therapy on the affected breast
- Have two or more areas of cancer in the same breast that are too far apart to be removed through one incision (though there are currently research trials looking at this option)
- Have a considerably large tumor or one that is close to or attached to the chest wall or nipple
Women who have cancer that is not completely removed with the lumpectomy may need further surgery to remove the rest of the cancer cells. The margins of the specimen removed are evaluated to help make a decision.
Simple or total mastectomy
In this procedure, the entire breast is removed but no lymph nodes are taken out.
Simple mastectomy is most often used to prevent breast cancer in a woman at increased risk for the disease or for cancer that is confined to the milk ducts (known as ductal carcinoma in situ).
Sometimes, a nipple-sparing mastectomy that preserves the nipple and areolar complex can be advised. Reconstruction of the breast can be done using implants or the patient’s own tissues, usually from the lower abdomen. In cases of early-stage invasive breast cancer, a sentinel lymph node biopsy procedure is also performed.
Modified radical mastectomy
The surgeon removes all of the breast tissue along with the nipple. Lymph nodes in the axilla (underarm) are also removed, and the chest muscles are left intact. Reconstruction of the breast is often offered.
The surgeon removes all of the breast tissue along with the nipple, lymph nodes in the underarm, and chest wall muscles under the breast. This procedure is rarely performed today unless the breast cancer has become very large and involves the chest wall muscles.
What is the recovery time?
The recovery time is generally between one week and six weeks or longer, depending on the type of breast surgery. After a lumpectomy, you may return to work after around two weeks. This may be longer after a mastectomy, between four to six weeks. You may be sore for weeks after breast surgery. It is important to discuss recovery time with your healthcare provider, as this will depend on your case.