How Breast Surgery May Affect Cancer Screening
When it comes to post-surgical breast imaging, you’ll likely have a few questions. Will your surgery affect the image and screening procedure, and if so, how? How likely is scar tissue or breast cancer recurrence with your particular surgery? We know there can be some uncertainty in these areas.
Read on to discover how different types of breast surgery might affect cancer screenings.
5 types of breast surgery and how they affect cancer screening
Can breast surgery affect the detection of breast cancer or mammography accuracy? To answer this question, we’ll look at five types of breast surgery below and what you can likely expect during a screening.
1. Breast implants
In most cases, having breast implants won’t prevent you from being able to get a breast cancer screening or mammogram. However, there will be a slight difference in the screening process so as not to rupture the implants.
The saline or silicone used in breast implants can make it difficult to view the breast tissue underneath. The process is slightly easier if the implants sit on top of the pectoral muscle. Otherwise, the procedure will require a technologist specializing in testing breast implants.
The technologist will shift the implant to make the breast tissue more visible, gently pushing it back against the chest wall and pulling the breast tissue forward and over it. They’ll need to know how much compression to use, as it’ll be less than the amount needed for natural breasts.
While regular screening mammograms take x-ray pictures of the breasts from two angles, additional images will be required with breast implants to obtain the clearest images. In some cases, imaging from an ultrasound or MRI may also be necessary.
2. Breast lift
A breast lift, or mastopexy, is a procedure where a plastic surgeon tightens and reshapes the breasts by removing excess skin. It aims to improve breast contour and symmetry, creating a more youthful and uplifted look.
Because a breast lift makes an earlier mammogram more difficult for future comparisons, your doctor will likely advise getting one mammogram before the surgery and a new baseline mammogram roughly six months following the surgery. This new baseline will be the standard to compare future screenings against and identify any changes.
A mammogram after a breast lift should be sufficient for breast cancer screening, and your mammography experience shouldn’t change after this procedure. The compression machine won’t interfere with the lift or cause the breasts to sag. An experienced mammography technologist can still get the necessary views without causing you any hassle or discomfort.
3. Breast reduction
After a breast reduction — a surgical procedure involving the removal of breast tissue — your mammogram experience likely won’t be any different than your pre-surgery experience. If anything, you may find the mammogram a little more comfortable, as there’s less tissue to compress.
However, research has shown that it may be more difficult to detect cancer cells post-breast reduction, meaning further imaging might be necessary. The doctor will review images to determine whether the areas in question are atypical cells or scar tissue.
Because reduction surgery changes the size of your breasts and can cause scar tissue formation, you’ll want to get a new baseline mammogram about six months after your surgery, like with breast lifts. This will become the new standard for your doctor to use when examining future screenings.
In the instance of a double or bilateral mastectomy — a surgical procedure where both breasts are removed to treat or prevent breast cancer — there’s no breast tissue to scan, meaning no mammogram is necessary. However, women who have had a unilateral mastectomy still require screenings because there’s still one breast to screen.
It’s important to have a mammogram done following a single mastectomy, as the risk of breast cancer development in the remaining one can be higher. It could return to the chest wall or skin on that side, often found by feeling it during a breast self-exam or physical exam.
Women who have undergone a subcutaneous mastectomy — the removal of the breast with the exception of the areola and nipple — may also need follow-up mammograms, as some breast tissue might still be under the nipple. If you aren’t sure what type of mastectomy you had or whether you should get a mammogram, be sure to ask your doctor.
A lumpectomy — also called a partial mastectomy, breast-conserving surgery or breast-saving surgery — is a procedure to remove a cancerous lump or tumor and the rim of healthy cells surrounding it. Unlike a mastectomy, which removes the whole breast, a lumpectomy aims to preserve as much of the breast as possible.
Following a lumpectomy, radiation therapy is usually required before you can enter remission. Radiation from chemotherapy can alter the skin and breast tissue, meaning a new baseline mammogram is required after the treatment. Some patients also opt for breast reduction or implants to even out the shape of the breasts, both of which require routine mammograms moving forward. Routine can mean annually or biannually depending on your doctor’s recommendation.
You can start receiving regular mammograms again about six to 12 months after completing treatment, with the new baseline mammogram being used for future comparisons. During mammogram screenings after a lumpectomy, your doctor may request additional diagnostic views of the lumpectomy site, as well as MRI or ultrasound screenings.
Is scar tissue common after lumpectomy?
Scar tissue often forms during the healing process after a lumpectomy, mainly due to breast cancer treatments like surgery and radiation therapy. If scar tissue is causing you pain, pressure or stiffness, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following techniques:
- Physical therapy
- Surgery to remove stiff or painful scar tissue
- Gels, ointments or creams to lighten or fade scars, either medically prescribed or over-the-counter
Request a screening mammogram today
It’s completely natural to have concerns regarding mammogram screenings following breast surgery. That’s why you’ll want to choose a reliable breast care center with an experienced team that works routinely with these prior procedures. At Envision Imaging, we provide world-class diagnostic imaging for patients. That includes the highest quality mammography services, CAT scans, MRI scans, ultrasounds and other radiology services.
Committed to improving the life and health of every patient that comes through our door, we want to provide you with a pleasant, compassionate experience as you receive the screening you need. Request a screening mammogram from Envision Imaging today!