Surgery aims to remove the breast cancer with a margin (border) of normal tissue to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back in the breast (known as local recurrence) and to try to stop any spread elsewhere in the body. The amount of tissue removed depends on the area of the breast affected and the size of the cancer in your breast.
Surgery is usually the first treatment for breast cancer, although sometimes chemotherapy or hormone therapy is offered first. This is to begin treating the whole body or to shrink the cancer so that surgery may be less extensive.
One of the first decisions you may have to make is which type of operation you'll have. You may be offered a choice of breast-conserving surgery, (usually referred to as lumpectomy or wide local excision) or a total mastectomy (removal of all the breast tissue including the nipple area). Sometimes it can be helpful to talk through your choices with your breast care nurse and discuss how each would affect you.
You may want to look at a decision-making tool to help you decide which operation is best for you. BresDex (Breast cancer Decision Explorer) is an interactive online decision-making tool for women diagnosed with breast cancer who have been given a choice between breast conserving surgery followed by radiotherapy, or mastectomy.
Content last reviewed May 2014; next planned review 2015