Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women – statistically, one in eight women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime. Approximately half of the cases are found in women older than 60 years, but breast cancer may occur from the age of 25.
Diagnosis of a breast tumor is based on an examination carried out by a physician, radiological examinations (mammography, ultrasound of the breasts and axillae, or MRI when necessary) and analysis of tissue samples. Surgical treatment is planned individually, according to the nature of the cancer and the patient’s wishes.
In breast cancer surgery, the tumor is removed and, when necessary, sentinel nodes are located with the help a lymph node map prepared before the operation and with intraoperative use of gamma probes, and sent to a pathologist for examination. Based on the frozen section result or preoperative examinations, axillary fat and lymph nodes may be removed in connection with the removal of the tumor. The removed tumor may also be X-rayed to verify the extent of the removal.
In a partial mastectomy, the remaining breast is shaped using oncoplastic techniques.
Sometimes it is necessary to remove the entire mammary gland because of the tumor and/or the size of the breast. In this case, the breast can be reconstructed with a flap or an implant. The aim is to spare the skin when performing the mastectomy. The healthy breast can sometimes also be removed to improve symmetry.
After breast cancer surgery, the patient remains in the hospital for one to seven days. Recovery takes two to six weeks. Follow-up treatment is planned in cooperation of a multidisciplinary team of physicians approximately two weeks after the surgery, when the diagnosis is more precise. In addition to plastic surgeons, the team includes an oncologist, a radiologist and a pathologist.
A breast cancer nurse and, when necessary, a physiotherapist, lymphatherapist, occupational therapist or psychotherapist can also take part in the treatment.
Upper limbs can be prone to swelling for one to two years after breast cancer surgery and any accompanying radiotherapy. A less severe lymphoedema can often be controlled with supporting textiles, regular exercise, and weight management. During an exacerbation, a period of lymph therapy can help. The patient may also benefit from surgical treatment (surgery of the lymphatic systems, lymph node transplants) if the upper limb swelling causes functional impairment.