There are a lot of myths about breast cancer surgery. It's hard enough to deal with the reality of this disease without worrying about things that aren't true. And it's important not to let those common misconceptions stand in the way of getting the best treatment available. Here are some of the most common myths about breast cancer surgery:
Surgery opens up the cancer to the air and makes it spread.
No. You're feeling just fine, and then something suspicious is discovered in your breast. Surgery is performed and the diagnosis comes back: cancer. If later tests show cancer elsewhere, you may immediately think that it was the surgery that released the cancer cells to the air, letting them jump all over the body. If there is cancer in other parts of your body after surgery, it is because:
- the cancer had already spread to other parts of the body before surgery
- a new cancer has developed.
- there were cancer cells left behind after surgery
- cancer cells slipped into a blood vessel while the surgeon was removing the tumor
Mastectomy is safer than lumpectomy with radiation therapy.
Not necessarily true. For people who have one site of breast cancer with a tumor less than four centimeters that is removed with clear margins, lumpectomy with radiation is likely to be equally as effective as mastectomy.
If you have a strong history of breast cancer in your family, lumpectomy plus radiation is not for you.
No. Having breast cancer in your family does not mean that your cancer is automatically more threatening than anyone else's. It doesn't mean that breast-conserving therapy is not an option for you. You and your doctor will weigh several factors in deciding which type of surgery is right for you, based on your disease stage, the cancer's "personality," and how aggressive you want to be to prevent a recurrence or a new cancer from ever starting in that breast.
If your lymph nodes are removed, your arm will be swollen for the rest of your life.
No. Lymph node surgery can lead to uncomfortable side effects, including lingering discomfort, numbness, and swelling called lymphedema. Usually, this happens in only 5-10% of cases. The risk of lymphedema can approach the 25% level if you have a full axillary dissection, (levels I, II, and III of nodes removed) AND radiation was added to the lymph node areas after surgery, AND chemotherapy was also given. Proper use and care of the affected arm, as well as physical therapy, can help manage lymphedema and reduce its severity. Learn more about preventing and managing lymphedema.