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Facing breast surgery? Here are facts to consider.

Maria Lyzen, right, and Ruth Freedman lead the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center's Breast Cancer Advisory and Advocacy Committee.

Maybe you’ve heard the recent news reports discussing second surgeries for women with breast cancer.

It’s an important, but complicated topic. So what do you really need to know if you or someone you care about is diagnosed with breast cancer?

Most women diagnosed   with breast cancer will have surgery. Many choose to have breast-sparing surgery or lumpectomy rather than a mastectomy. A lumpectomy removes the cancer, along with a small amount of normal tissue that surrounds it.

New research has found that nearly 23% of women have a second surgery, called a re-excision. Re-excision may need to be done if the pathology report reveals that there are still cancer cells at or near the area where the breast cancer was removed. This is what is referred to as a positive margin. The goal of a re-excision is to reduce the risk of breast cancer returning in the future.

In an effort to reduce the need for a second surgery, the University of Michigan now provides intraoperative margin testing and sentinel node analysis for our breast cancer patients. This is a wonderful option because it allows margins and lymph nodes to be checked by a pathologist while the patient is still in surgery — so it reduces the chance that you’ll need to return to the operating room for a second surgery.

Newly diagnosed breast cancer patients who are planning to have a lumpectomy should be sure to talk with their surgeon.  Ask about the surgeon’s re-excision rate, what to expect from surgery and recovery, and whether a re-excision will delay starting chemotherapy or radiation. Asking the surgeon if the hospital or clinic where the surgery is planned has the ability to check margins and lymph nodes during surgery may eliminate the need for a return trip to the operating room.

To learn more about breast cancer and treatment options check out information from the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, the National Cancer Institute and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. If you have further questions, please call one of the cancer nurses from our Cancer AnswerLine™ at 800-865-1125

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