Women's Health

Breast Cancer Diagnosis Does Not Always Mean Mastectomy

Like many women, Martha Denstedt assumed that breast cancer leads to mastectomy. After all, this surgical procedure where the entire breast and lymph nodes of the axilla are removed was once a standard protocol for women with breast cancer.

"I always thought that, 'Oh, if I ever get a breast cancer diagnosis, I'm just going to have a mastectomy,' says Martha.

But there are many more options, today, something that Martha learned after she had a mammogram. "I went for the appointment and they said they saw something suspicious and I deflected it and said, 'I'm sure it's just a cyst, don't worry about it,'" says Martha. "They encouraged me to get a biopsy. I did and was diagnosed with stage I breast cancer."

The cancer was caught early enough that Martha had options other than a mastectomy. Martha and her care team discussed an alternative to mastectomy and reconstruction. She had the option of a lumpectomy to remove a lump about the size of a pea. This was followed by a sentinel lymph node dissection.

"Studies performed over many years have shown that women with Stage I or II breast cancer who have breast conservation therapy (BCT) combined with radiation therapy have equivalent overall survival rates as women who undergo a mastectomy.  Breast conservation surgery and mastectomy both have advantages and disadvantages. " says Jess Guarnaschelli, MD with the TriHealth Cancer Institute. 

Dr. Guarnaschelli says there are three major benefits for a patient to choose BCT if they qualify.

  • Breast conservation followed by radiation therapy achieves similar overall survival rates as compared to mastectomy
  • Women maintain their own breast, lumpectomy is a shorter surgery with shorter recovery times, fewer  potential surgical side effects than mastectomy
  • BCT is less likely to affect a woman's feelings about her body image or negatively impact sexuality

"The choice between breast conservation versus mastectomy is a personal one. This decision should be made with the patient's breast surgeon and multidisciplinary oncology team.  After educating the patient, a woman's individual preferences, priorities, and lifestyle all contribute to the final decision." says Dr. Guarnaschelli.

Not every breast cancer patient qualifies for breast conservation, but Martha is happy she was one of them. "The surgery was great because it (the breast) really doesn't look much different," she says. "I'm so happy about that."

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Last Updated: October 27, 2016