Frequently Asked Questions

One of the most important steps for any woman dealing with the news of possible breast cancer or awaiting treatment or surgery is to equip herself with the correct information. For this purpose, I have put together a list of simple definitions to help you understand the various procedures available.

What is fine-needle aspiration?

Fine-needle aspiration (FNAB) is an in-room diagnostic procedure used to investigate lumps or masses. In this technique a thin, hollow needle is inserted into the mass for sampling of cells, which after being stained, will be examined under a microscope by a cytopathologist to assess whether cells are cancerous or not. The results can be available within a day.

What is a Tru-cut needle biopsy?

A Tru-cut needle biopsy is an in-room procedure. A large needle is used to remove pieces of tissue to be assessed by a histopathologist. This is to provide a tissue diagnosis of malignancy before deciding on a treatment plan. This result can be available within 2 days.

What is cyst aspiration?

Cyst aspiration is an in-room procedure used to drain fluid from a breast cyst until the cyst cannot be felt any longer. The majority of cysts are non-cancerous. Aspirating the fluid from a cyst may alleviate symptoms or discomfort. In some cases, specimens are sent to pathology.

What is an excision biopsy?

An excision biopsy is a theatre procedure that involves the surgical removal of the whole mass or lump. This is usually done when there is uncertainty about the diagnosis after an FNAB or Tru-cut biopsy, and in some cases it is the preferred form of biopsy. The specimen is sent for assessment by the histopathologist. The results can be available in 3 days. The patient is usually treated as a day patient.

What is microductectomy?

Microductectomy is a theatre procedure that involves the removal of the breast duct. This is done if there is a blood-stained nipple discharge or the existence of a lump within the breast duct. The tissue that is removed during the operation is sent for assessment by a histopathologist. The operation is usually performed with a general anaesthetic (where you are asleep). Most patients will go home the same day.

What is a wide local excision?

A wide local excision (WLE) is a surgical procedure to remove the cancer. WLE is a theatre procedure and usually requires an overnight admission.

What is oncoplastic surgery?

Oncoplastic surgery combines the latest plastic surgery techniques with breast surgical oncology to achieve the best cosmetic result of the residual breast tissue. When a large lumpectomy is required that will leave the breast distorted, the remaining tissue is sculpted to realign the nipple and areola and restore a natural appearance to the breast shape.

What is a mastectomy?

A mastectomy is a medical term for the surgical removal of the breast. In some cases, people believed to be at high risk of breast cancer have a mastectomy as a preventative measure.

What is a skin-sparing mastectomy?

This form of breast cancer surgery involves the removal of the whole breast while keeping most of the skin intact so that reconstruction can be performed at the same time as the breast cancer surgery.

What is a nipple-sparing mastectomy?

This form of mastectomy involves the removal of the whole breast without removing any of the skin, the nipple or the dark skin around it known as the areola. This procedure allows reconstruction to be performed at the same time as the breast cancer surgery.

What is axillary surgery?

This can include a sentinel lymph node biopsy and axillary node clearance. Both of these procedures are used to assess the lymph nodes when you have breast cancer. The sentinel lymph node biopsy involves a special dye being injected to help identify the lymph nodes that have cancer cells in them. Axillary node clearance is the removal of all the lymph nodes in the armpit below the major blood vessels.

What is thyroid FNAB?

Fine-needle aspiration biopsy (FNAB) of the thyroid is an in-room procedure used to detect cancer in a thyroid nodule or to treat thyroid cysts. It involves a small needle biopsy test. The cells are then assessed by a cytopathologist to make a diagnosis of possible thyroid cancer or a benign disease process of the thyroid. The chance that a thyroid nodule is malignant varies with age, gender, radiation exposure, and other factors.

What is a thyroid lobectomy?

A thyroid lobectomy is a theatre-based procedure. This operation involves removing half of the thyroid gland that has the nodule. It is sometimes called a diagnostic lobectomy because the preoperative diagnosis may be uncertain and part of the reason for the operation is to make a diagnosis of cancer or no cancer. The patient would require admission overnight.

What is a total thyroidectomy?

A total thyroidectomy is a theatre-based procedure that involves removing the whole thyroid gland. This is usually for a multinodular goitre and for certain types of thyroid cancer.