Breast/axilla surgery

This is usually to remove a breast lump.

Q: Why would I need the operation?

If you have a breast lump it may need to be removed. Axilla (armpit) surgery may be indicated if you have breast cancer.

Q: What symptoms would I experience with this problem?

You or your doctor may feel a lump in your breast.  A lump may also have been picked up incidentally on an ultrasound or mammmogram.

Q: How do I know for sure that I have the condition and therefore need this operation?

Your surgeon will have examined you as well as getting an ultrasound and/or a mammogram. You may require other imaging such as an MRI.  The surgeon may also send you to have the lump biopsied prior to the surgery to confirm the diagnosis.  This is usually done in the radiology department under ultrasound or mammogram guidance.

Q: What scar will I have and what does the procedure involve?

If the lump is not a cancer and you want it removed then you wil only have a small scar on the breast. The location of the scar depends on where the lump is.  If it is a cancer, you will most likely also have a scar in the armpit on the same side. Recent advances in breast cancer surgery allows the surgeon to  initially do minimal surgery to the arm pit (sentinel node biopsy). Discuss this with your surgeon and s/he will provide you with more information.

Q: What anaesthetic will I have and do I have a choice?

You will most likely need a general anaesthetic.

Q: What are the possible complications and what are the chances that they will occur?

Breast and axilla surgery is very safe and the complication rate is very low.  The main risk of breast surgery is bleeding and infection. In the armpit there are a few nerves that may be damaged during the operation. Again, the chance of this happening is very low. There are other risks with armpit surgery such as lymphoedema, but is very unlikely if only a sentinel lymph node biopsy is performed.

Q: What can I expect after the operation?

If it is a benign breast lump then you can usually go home on the same day. If you need an operation for you armpit, usually you need to stay overnight. However if you are keen to go home on the same day and have good support at home, it is possible.

Q: How long should I be off work?

You normally can resume work in 1-2 days. However if you needed surgery on your armpit you may need a few extra days off to be able to move your arms more freely.

Q: When will I see my surgeon for review?

Depending on what is found at surgery, the surgeon will review you within 1-2 weeks. If you unfortunately have cancer, you will need ongoing followup with the surgeon.