Mastectomies and Lumpectomies
Kimberli S. Cox, MD, is a breast surgeon on staff at Banner Estrella Medical Center. Her office can be reached at (602) 374-3440.
Question: When it comes to breast cancer treatment, how do mastectomies and lumpectomies compare?
Answer: Breast cancer can be a devastating diagnosis for women. When faced with the possibility of losing all or part of a breast, women should be aware of the treatment options that are available to them.
Two of the most widely used surgical treatments for breast cancer are mastectomies and lumpectomies. Both are effective options and, when compared to each other, have advantages and disadvantages.
Generally speaking, a mastectomy is the complete removal of the breast, and with it, the cancerous tissue it contains. When the cancer is completely removed, follow-up radiation is usually not necessary although some women will require post-mastectomy radiation. A mastectomy provides the greatest reduction in cancer risk by removing as much of the breast tissue as possible. Mastectomies are more invasive procedures than lumpectomies and take longer to recover from. Additionally, the removal of an entire breast can result in significant physical and emotional changes in women.
Unlike mastectomy, a lumpectomy is breast-conserving surgery. It is performed when there is a proportionately small tumor and often maintains the breast’s appearance. Lumpectomies, however, generally require follow up radiation therapy, which can cause a variety of side effects. There is a shorter form of radiation for women with lumpectomies that uses a balloon catheter to deliver the radiation in concentrated doses; not everyone is eligible for this treatment and women should ask their physician if they are a candidate. There is a higher risk of a recurrence of cancer with lumpectomies when compared to mastectomies and should the cancer return, a mastectomy would likely be necessary.
It is important for women to understand that although lumpectomy with radiation has a higher recurrence rate when compared to mastectomy, the survival rates are identical and that removal of the breast does not translate into a better outcome.
Clearly understanding the scope of one’s medical condition, as well as the available treatment options, will help women, families and physicians to determine which treatment provides the greatest chance for successfully beating breast cancer.
Reviewed October 2010