Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

1 in 4 Partial Mastectomy Patients Have Second Surgery

Study Finds Wide Variations Among Surgeons in Rates of Additional Surgeries
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Jan. 31, 2012 -- Close to 1 in 4 breast cancer patients who have partial mastectomies undergo a second surgery to remove suspicious tissue, but there is little agreement about when the second surgery is needed.

Researchers found huge variations from institution to institution and from surgeon to surgeon in the rate of follow-up surgeries women had after breast-conserving surgery.

The study found that some surgeons almost never performed second surgeries while others performed them in 70% of their patients.

Partial Mastectomy Second Surgeries Common

Close to 3 out of 4 women with breast cancer in the U.S. opt for breast-conserving surgery.

Follow-up surgery, known medically as re-excision, is performed when there is a suspicion that the initial surgery left behind cancerous tissue.

This is determined when a post-operative report shows cancer cells at or near the outer margins of the removed breast tissue. When margins are positive, meaning that cancer cells extend to the edge of the tissue, a second surgery to remove more tissue is always needed.

But when the margins are negative, it is less clear which patients will benefit from follow-up surgery.

In the new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers examined re-excision rates at four institutions across the U.S.

Wide Variation From Center to Center

Overall, 454 of the 2,206 breast cancer patients included in the analysis had second surgeries following their initial partial mastectomy. Forty-eight women had two additional surgeries and seven women had three re-excisions.

Second surgeries were performed in 86% of women whose initial tissue margins were positive, but when margins were negative re-excision rates ranged up to 70% among surgeons and from 1.7% to 21% among institutions.

“This study establishes that we have quite a bit of variation in how we deliver care to women who have partial mastectomies,” says researcher Laurence McCahill, MD, who is medical director of surgical oncology at the Lacks Cancer Center and a professor of surgery at Michigan State University.

“This issue has not really been part of the conversation between women and their surgeons, but it needs to be,” he says. “I think people will be surprised to find that almost a quarter of women who have partial mastectomies are going back for more surgery.”

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
Resolved To Quit Smoking
Woman getting mammogram
Screening Tests for Women
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
serious woman
what is your cancer risk
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow