Types of Surgery in Breast Cancer Treatment

Two main types of surgery can be distinguished in the treatment of breast cancer: breast-conserving surgery and breast resection. Each has its risks and benefits according to the individual case.
Types of Surgery in Breast Cancer Treatment
Leonardo Biolatto

Reviewed and approved by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Written by Editorial Team

Last update: 25 December, 2022

Surgery as part of breast cancer treatment is used in many women with this pathology. The types of surgery in breast cancer treatment, as well as for its prevention, have undergone significant changes in recent years. The reason for this was the changes in knowledge regarding the biology of tumors.

There are different types of surgery in the treatment of breast cancer, each adapted to the particular situation. As for the objectives of these surgical techniques we can mention the following:

  • Eliminating all malignant cells: By excision of the tumor it is intended that no remains are left. The choice is between breast-conserving surgery or total mastectomy.
  • To find out if the cancer has spread to the axillary lymph nodes: To achieve this goal a sentinel lymph node biopsy or axillary lymph node dissection is performed.
  • Restore the shape of the breast after removal of the tumor: The technique used is breast reconstruction.
  • Decrease symptoms: In the case of a patient with advanced breast cancer.

What are the two types of surgery for breast cancer treatment?

Two main types of surgeries can be differentiated in the treatment of breast cancer: breast-conserving surgery and breast resection. In turn, these two large groups include other surgical techniques that we’ll look at throughout the article.

Conservative surgery

These are types of surgery in the treatment of breast cancer that are based on the removal of the part affected by the cancer. Therefore, the objective is to remove the tumor and the surrounding tissue.

As for the amount that’s removed, this will depend on where it is and how big the tumor is, as well as other factors that have to do with the patient’s condition. Among the options for conservative surgery we can find the following:

  • Lumpectomy: This surgical technique consists exclusively of the removal of the tumor.
  • Partial mastectomy: In addition to the removal of the tumor, lymph nodes under the arm are also removed.
Breast cancer treatment.
The type of surgical treatment for breast cancer will be defined based on each patient’s history.

Breast resection

Although many people know this type of breast surgery as mastectomy, the name isn’t entirely accurate. It’s necessary to mention that within mastectomies there are different types, so it would be more correct to use the term breast resection.

These are different types of surgeries that aim to remove the breast in its entirety. This includes all the breast tissue and sometimes other nearby tissues.

Let’s look at the different types of mastectomies:

  • Total (simple) mastectomy: This consists of removing the entire breast; some lymph nodes under the arm may also be removed.
  • Modified radical mastectomy: In this operation, the breast, most or all of the lymph nodes under the arm, and the lining of the chest muscles are removed. Sometimes the surgeon also removes part of the chest wall muscles.
  • Radical Halsted mastectomy: This surgery for breast cancer involves removing the entire breast, the chest muscles and all the lymph nodes under the arm. It has been for many years the technique of choice for surgeons. However, at present, it is the least used due to the great advances that have been made. This type of surgery should only be considered when the tumor has spread to the chest muscles.
tratamiento del cáncer de mama
The radical mastectomy that was used before has been restricted to a few cases.

You may also be interested in reading: 5 Rare Signs of Breast Cancer


The medical oncologist will recommend either one type of surgery or another, depending on the characteristics of the tumor and the patient’s medical history. However, the patient has the last word, and sometimes they themselves are asked to choose the type of surgery they want.

For this reason, it’s extremely important that we’re always informed of all the options available, as well as what each one consists of, and what the risks and benefits are. Advances in oncology provide the opportunity to preserve more and more healthy tissue with little chance of recurrence.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Albornoz, C. R., Matros, E., Lee, C. N., Hudis, C. A., Pusic, A. L., Elkin, E., … & Morrow, M. (2015). Bilateral mastectomy versus breast-conserving surgery for early stage breast cancer: the role of breast reconstruction. Plastic and reconstructive surgery135(6), 1518.
  • Freitas Júnior, R. de, Ribeiro, L. F. J., Taia, L., Kajita, D., Fernandes, M. V., & Queiroz, G. S. (2001). Linfedema em Pacientes Submetidas à Mastectomia Radical Modificada. Revista Brasileira de Ginecologia e Obstetrícia. https://doi.org/10.1590/s0100-72032001000400002
  • Martínez-Basurto, A. E., Lozano-Arrazola, A., Rodríguez-Velázquez, A. L., Galindo-Vázquez, O., & Alvarado-Aguilar, S. (2014). Impacto psicológico del cáncer de mama y la mastectomía. Gaceta Mexicana de Oncologia.
  • Plesca, M., Bordea, C., El Houcheimi, B., Ichim, E., & Blidaru, A. (2016). Evolution of radical mastectomy for breast cancer. Journal of medicine and life9(2), 183.
  • Sociedad Americana Contra el Cáncer. (2017). Mastectomía.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.