Breast Cancer – New Surgical Advances

May 3, 2016 Brigham and Women's Hospital

Breast cancer management today often incorporates a “less is more” approach.

Breast cancer management today often incorporates a “less is more” approach.

Current trends in breast cancer management incorporate a “less is more” approach in many cases. This includes surgical treatment for breast cancer.

“We are finding that we can perform less extensive surgery and offer easier approaches for many patients with breast cancer, while still achieving excellent outcomes,” says Dr. Tari A. King, Chief of Breast Surgery and a member of the Breast Oncology Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center.

Previous surgical treatment plans, for example, included full lymph node surgery for the presence of any cancer in the lymph nodes located under the arm. This can result in long-term arm swelling, a condition known as lymphedema. Recent studies have shown that, in patients with a limited amount of cancer in the lymph nodes (cancer in one or two nodes), it is not necessary to remove all of the remaining nodes.  The lymph nodes can remain in place and the cancer can be successfully treated with other modalities, such as medical and radiation therapies.

For patients with breast cancer detected by mammographic screening, the traditional approach was to place a wire in the breast on the day of surgery to localize the breast tumor to allow the surgeon to perform a lumpectomy. This wire would point to the area of the tumor and would serve as a guide for the surgeon. Today, a small seed with a small amount of radioactive material can be placed in the breast to mark the tumor and the area to be removed by the surgeon. This can be done up to a week before the patient’s scheduled surgery, reducing procedures – as well as patient anxiety – on the day of surgery.

In the video below, Dr. King discusses these trends in the surgical approach to the treatment of breast cancer and the importance of having a team of breast cancer experts in different disciplines to provide care for patients with breast cancer.

– Jessica F.

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