Surgeries that conserve more of the breast tissue. Reconstruction that results in less post-operative pain. And more surgery that is done on an outpatient basis, so women can leave that day and heal at home.

These are just a few of the advances in breast cancer surgery that are now available to patients with breast cancer.

Historically, breast cancer surgery was "maximally invasive." That meant most patients underwent a complete mastectomy, and the surgeon would remove every lymph node in the armpit area – between 10 and 40 nodes.

Today, the majority of breast surgeries are performed using breast-conservation techniques, which typically means a lumpectomy – the removal of the cancer and a rim of normal tissue – and a sentinel node biopsy, which means a key lymph node is removed and checked to see if cancer has spread.

And if the lymph node does prove cancerous, responses to that are more conservative than they used to be. In the past, if the sentinel node was cancerous, the surgeon would remove all the other nodes. Now if there are only one or two positive nodes, they are treated with radiation instead of removing all of them. That’s a change that dramatically cuts the rate of lymphedema – chronic swelling of the arms – and the risk of hard-to-treat infections.

Other advances in breast cancer surgery include:

  • For lumpectomies, standard procedure has been to locate the cancerous area and, on the day of surgery, insert a wire in the spot to guide the surgeon. Now doctors can place a rice-grain-sized radar reflector at the tumor site anytime before the procedure. Then the doctor scans the breast to locate the precise spot for surgery.
  • For women who undergo a mastectomy, anesthesiologists now give local nerve blocks post-surgery, which decreases pain and allows women to leave the hospital sooner to recover at home.
  • Women that undergo reconstruction can now get implants placed in front of the pectoral (chest) muscle instead of behind, as was done in the past. The new placement can result in less post-surgery pain and a more natural appearance.

You don’t have to face your breast cancer diagnosis alone. The breast cancer specialists at Novant Health are close by and here to provide you with information, support and the help you need to overcome cancer.

With the demands of juggling work and family, it can be difficult to find time to take care of yourself. Download our women’s health guide today.