Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Breast-Conserving Surgery (Lumpectomy or Partial Mastectomy) for Breast Cancer

Breast-conserving surgery removes the cancer and surrounding tissue. The goal is to take just enough tissue so that the breast looks as normal as possible after the surgery but the chance of the cancer coming back is low.

The size and location of tumors differs from one person to another, so the amount of tissue removed during surgery also varies. To make it simple, you can think of two general breast-conserving surgeries: a lumpectomy and a partial mastectomy. Lumpectomy camera.gif is the surgical removal of the breast lump and some of the tissue around it. The lump is removed in one piece and sent to the lab for examination.

Partial mastectomy is more extensive. It is the removal of the area of the breast that contains cancer, some of the breast tissue around the tumor, and the lining over the chest muscles below the tumor. Some of the lymph nodes under the arm are also taken out. A sentinel lymph node biopsy removes just a few lymph nodes to be examined under a microscope to check for cancer cells. If cancer is found in those lymph nodes, more lymph nodes will be removed. If the tests done before your surgery suggest that there is cancer in the lymph nodes near the breast, several lymph nodes will be taken out during your surgery. This is called an axillary lymph node dissection.

Most people who have breast-conserving surgery also have radiation therapy. You may also have chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or both.

What To Expect After Surgery

A lumpectomy can be done with local anesthesia if you are not having lymph nodes removed. If you are having lymph nodes removed or are having a partial mastectomy, you will have general anesthesia.

After your surgery, you will be taken to a recovery room. A nurse will be able to help with any nausea, pain, or anxiety you might have.

Many people go home the day of the surgery, but you may stay in the hospital for a day or two. Your doctor or nurse will give you instructions on pain control and caring for the surgical wound. Typically, you can remove the bandage and take a shower on the day after surgery. You can wear a bra if it is comfortable. Some doctors recommend wearing a bra day and night for a few days for support.

Most people are able to get back to normal activity within a few days. But be sure to wait for your doctor to tell you when you can start with more strenuous physical activity. This will depend on the extent of the surgery and on other treatment you might be having.

If you are going to have radiation therapy, it will not start until the wound heals. This usually takes at least 2 weeks.

Why It Is Done

Breast-conserving surgery is done in early-stage breast cancer to remove as much cancer as possible and give the greatest chance of a cure.

How Well It Works

For early-stage breast cancer, breast-conserving surgery with radiation therapy has the same survival rate as mastectomy.1

Risks

Complications of breast-conserving surgery are unusual but include infection, bleeding, poor wound healing, or a reaction to the anesthesia used in surgery. Blood or clear fluid may also collect in the wound and need to be drained. You may have feelings of pulling, pinching, tingling, or numbness.

What To Think About

The more breast tissue that is removed during this surgery, the more likely it is that there will be a noticeable change in the breast afterwards. Experts suggest that before having breast-conserving surgery, women talk with their doctors (and possibly a plastic surgeon) about what their breasts might look like after the surgery.

Breast-conserving surgery can be considered after the cancer has been staged. Breast-conserving surgery may not be the best choice in some cases, depending on the size of the tumor or if there are several tumors that are too far apart.

Breast-conserving surgery is usually followed by radiation. If you don't want to have radiation therapy or if you cannot have radiation treatment, breast-conserving surgery is not usually a good choice.

Radiation therapy has to be done on a set schedule and takes several weeks. If you do not think you can go to every appointment, talk to your doctor about other treatment options.

Surgery is almost always recommended to treat breast cancer. If breast-conserving surgery is not a good option for you, then total or modified radical mastectomy, which removes the entire breast and sometimes the surrounding tissue, is a better treatment choice.

Complete the surgery information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this surgery.

Citations

  1. Fisher B, et al. (2002). Twenty-year follow-up of a randomized trial comparing total mastectomy, lumpectomy, and lumpectomy plus irradiation for the treatment of invasive breast cancer. New England Journal of Medicine, 347(16): 1233–1241.

Other Works Consulted

  • Weber ES, Sherk SD (2004). Lumpectomy. In AJ Senagore, ed., Gale Encyclopedia of Surgery: A Guide for Patients and Caregivers, vol. 2, pp. 910–913. Cleveland: Thomson Gale.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerSarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerDouglas A. Stewart, MD - Medical Oncology
Last RevisedJune 28, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 28, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
 
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
 
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
VIDEO
Resolved To Quit Smoking
SLIDESHOW
 
Woman getting mammogram
Article
Screening Tests for Women
SLIDESHOW
 
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
serious woman
Article
 
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow
SLIDESHOW