Breast-Conserving Surgery Vs. Mastectomy For Breast Cancer: How Do You Know Which Is Right For You?

Breast cancer treatment typically utilizes multiple methods to eliminate breast cancer, such as surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and hormonal therapy. Surgery's main strength is that it's able to remove the majority of cancerous tissue, whereas other methods are better at eliminating cancer left behind after surgery or preventing it from growing larger. Breast-conserving surgery and mastectomy are two common surgical options for treating breast cancer, and they're both highly effective at removing cancerous tissue. To learn more about the difference between them and how to decide which one is best for you, read on.

Breast-Conserving Surgery

Breast-conserving surgery is a breast cancer treatment that fully removes the tumor while preserving as much of your healthy breast tissue as possible. Some of the healthy tissue surrounding the tumor will be removed just in case the cancer has spread into them, but most of your breast will be left intact.

The purpose of this surgery is to treat your cancer while having as little effect on the appearance of your breast as possible. After undergoing breast-conserving surgery, you'll receive radiation therapy in order to help destroy any unnoticed cancer cells remaining in your breast tissue that weren't removed as part of the surgery.


A mastectomy is a more invasive form of breast cancer treatment that removes the entire breast rather than removing only the tumor. Removing more of the breast decreases the chances that any cancerous tissue will be missed during the surgery, so a mastectomy is more effective at preventing cancer from coming back.

Since a mastectomy removes the entire breast instead of trying to preserve as much of it as possible, it will have a more dramatic effect on your appearance. However, you can often have breast reconstruction surgery performed at the same time as your mastectomy. This increases the recovery time from the procedure, but it minimizes the effect that a mastectomy will have on the appearance of your breast.

Which Surgical Option Is Right for Your Breast Cancer Treatment?

Overall, the choice of which surgery will be best for treating your breast cancer depends on how large the tumors are and how much it has spread. If the breast cancer has spread into the lymph nodes near your breast, you'll most likely need a mastectomy — this allows the surgeon to access and remove all of the cancerous lymph nodes. Similarly, you'll also likely need a mastectomy when there's too much cancerous tissue in your breast to be effectively removed using breast-conserving surgery.

In other cases, breast-conserving surgery is often the better option. It's less invasive, which means that you're able to recover from the surgery faster (especially when compared to a mastectomy followed by breast reconstruction surgery.) It also has a minimal effect on the appearance of your breast — it may change somewhat due to some of the healthy tissue being removed, but this is still much less of a change than a mastectomy. Finally, while there's a slightly higher risk of your cancer coming back with breast-conserving surgery, it's still reasonably low.

If you're having trouble deciding which option is best for you, have a conversation with a breast cancer treatment service. They'll be able to determine if you're a good candidate for breast-conserving surgery, and they'll also go over the risks of your cancer coming back depending on which type of surgery you choose.

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