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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Breast Cancer, Lumpectomy, and Partial Mastectomy

If you have breast cancer, a lumpectomy (partial mastectomy) may be an option for you. A surgeon removes the tumor along with some of the breast tissue around it. 

You’ll most likely be able to return home later the same day. Most people chose to have a numbing local anesthesia, rather than be put under with general anesthesia.

Women who have this type of breast cancer surgery usually:

  • Have a single tumor that's small -- less than 5 centimeters in diameter
  • Have enough tissue so that removing surrounding tissue won’t leave a misshapen breast
  • Are medically able to get surgery and follow-up radiation treatment

You typically get radiation after a lumpectomy. That combo treatment helps women live about as long as those who have their whole breast removed, studies show. And you may get better cosmetic results, since the surgeon removes less tissue breast tissue.

But a lumpectomy plus radiation might not be a good option for women who:

  • Have multiple tumors in the breast
  • Have very large tumors, or cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes or other tissue around the breast
  • Have had radiation to the same breast for an earlier breast cancer
  • Are pregnant
  • Have a tumor where it would be hard to remove enough surrounding tissue


What to Expect

Before your lumpectomy, your doctor should give you:

  • Specific instructions to follow in the days before the surgery
  • An overview of the procedure
  • Information about recovery and follow-up care

The operation usually takes an hour or 2. Your surgeon's team may place small metallic clips inside your breast to help guide him to the exact area to be removed.

He may check your lymph nodes during the surgery, too. A radioactive tracer or blue dye is injected into the area around the tumor. The tracer or dye travels the same path that the cancer cells would take. That helps doctors spot any lymph nodes that need to be taken out for testing.

The removed breast tissue and any lymph nodes are sent to a lab, where tests help identify the type of tumor, whether the disease has spread to the lymph nodes, and whether the cancer is fueled by hormones. Other tests help your doctor determine how the disease may act and how best to treat it. It may take several days to identify the type of tumor and get the results of these tests.

While you're recovering, call your doctor right away if you notice swelling in your arm or hand (lymphedema), a buildup of fluid under the skin, redness, or any symptoms of an infection.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on September 17, 2015

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