Lumpectomy (Partial Mastectomy)

What Is a Lumpectomy?

A lumpectomy is a type of surgery for breast cancer to remove cancer or other abnormal tissue from your breast. Your doctor may call it breast-conserving surgery, partial mastectomy, or excisional biopsy. Unlike a traditional mastectomy, the surgeon removes only the tumor along with some of the breast tissue around it, and not the entire breast.

If you get a lumpectomy, you’ll most likely be able to return home later the same day. Some people choose to have a numbing local anesthesia, rather than to be put under with general anesthesia.

Who Gets a Lumpectomy?

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

A lumpectomy may not be right for you if you have:

  • Scleroderma, a condition that makes tissues harden -- it’ll make it hard for you to heal after surgery.
  • Lupus, an inflammatory condition that will get worse if you need radiation
  • Already had radiation on your breast. More treatment is risky.
  • Cancer that’s spread throughout your breast tissue and the skin over it. A lumpectomy won’t be able to remove it all.
  • A large tumor and small breasts
  • Two or more tumors in different parts of your breast that the surgeon can’t remove with one cut. More than one cut could make your breast look odd after a lumpectomy.
  • No access to radiation treatments

Radiation With a Lumpectomy

You typically get radiation after a lumpectomy. This combination 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 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

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What to Expect

Before your lumpectomy, the 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 two. Your surgeon's team may use small metallic clips inside your breast to help guide them to the exact area to be removed.

They may check your lymph nodes during the surgery, too. During a procedure called sentinel node biopsy, they’ll inject a radioactive tracer or blue dye 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 find out 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.

Complications and Side Effects

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.

You might also notice:

  • Bleeding
  • Swelling at the site
  • Soreness
  • Hard scar tissue at the site
  • Changes in the shape and look of your breast

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on May 08, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Breastcancer.org: "Lumpectomy," ”Lymph Node Removal.”

American Cancer Society: “Surgery for Breast Cancer.”

Mayo Clinic: “Lumpectomy.”

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