Learn what to expect from this breast-conserving surgical procedure.
Lumpectomy (lum-PEK-tuh-me) is surgery to remove cancer or other abnormal tissue from your breast.
During a lumpectomy procedure, the surgeon removes the cancer or other abnormal tissue and a small amount of the healthy tissue that surrounds it. This ensures that all of the abnormal tissue is removed.
Lumpectomy is also called breast-conserving surgery or wide local excision because only a portion of the breast is removed. In contrast, during a mastectomy, all of the breast tissue is removed. Doctors may also refer to lumpectomy as an excisional biopsy or quadrantectomy.
Lumpectomy is a treatment option for early-stage breast cancer. Sometimes lumpectomy is used to rule out a cancer diagnosis. When a lumpectomy surgery is performed to remove cancer, it usually is followed by radiation therapy to the breast to reduce the chances of cancer returning.
A lumpectomy involves removing the cancer and some of the healthy tissue that surrounds it. This illustration shows one possible incision that can be used for this procedure, though your surgeon will determine the approach that's best for your particular situation.
The goal of lumpectomy is to remove cancer or other abnormal tissue while maintaining the appearance of your breast. Studies indicate that lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy is as effective in preventing a recurrence of breast cancer as removal of the entire breast (mastectomy) for early-stage breast cancer.
Your doctor may recommend lumpectomy if a biopsy has shown that you have cancer and that the cancer is believed to be small and early stage. Lumpectomy may also be used to remove certain noncancerous or precancerous breast abnormalities.
Your doctor may not recommend lumpectomy for breast cancer if you:
Lumpectomy is a surgical procedure that carries a risk of side effects, including:
You'll meet with your surgeon a few days before your lumpectomy. Bring a list of questions to remind you to cover everything you want to know. Make sure you understand the procedure and its risks.
You'll be given instructions about pre-surgical restrictions and other things you need to know. The surgery is usually done as an outpatient procedure, so you can go home the same day.
Tell your doctor about any medications, vitamins or supplements you're taking in case something could interfere with the surgery. In general, to prepare for your lumpectomy, it's recommended that you:
Your lumpectomy procedure begins with locating the area of your breast that contains the abnormality (localization procedure). To do this, a doctor who uses imaging tests to diagnose and treat diseases (radiologist) uses a mammogram or ultrasound to locate the tumor and insert a thin wire, needle or small radioactive seed. Your surgeon uses this as a guide to find the precise area that needs to be removed during surgery.
If you have a lump or mass in your breast that can be easily felt through the skin, the localization procedure may not be necessary because the surgeon can more easily find the abnormal area to be removed.
Your surgeon may recommend removing lymph nodes near your armpit to see whether cancer has spread beyond the breast. Surgery to remove a few lymph nodes (sentinel node biopsy) is often recommended for early-stage breast cancer. If cancer was found in a lymph node before surgery or if there's a concern that the cancer has spread, your surgeon may recommend removing a number of lymph nodes near your armpit (axillary lymph node dissection).
Lymph node removal procedures include:
Sentinel node biopsy. During this procedure your surgeon removes only the first one or two nodes into which the cancer drains (sentinel nodes). These are then tested for cancer. Your doctor may recommend this procedure if there are no concerns about enlarged lymph nodes prior to your surgery.
Before your surgery, a radioactive substance or blue dye or both is injected into the area around the cancer or the skin above the cancer. The dye travels to the sentinel node or nodes, allowing your surgeon to identify and remove them.
If no cancer is present in the lymph nodes, no further lymph nodes need to be removed. If cancer is present, the surgeon will discuss options, such as receiving radiation to the armpit. If this is what you decide to do, you will not need to have more lymph nodes in the armpit removed.
A lumpectomy is usually performed using general anesthesia, which will put you into a sleep-like state during the procedure.
Your surgeon will make an incision over the tumor or over the area that contains the wire or seed, remove the tumor and some surrounding tissue, and send it to the lab for analysis. He or she will do the same for the sentinel lymph node or nodes if you're having a sentinel node biopsy or the axillary lymph nodes if you're having an axillary lymph node dissection.
The surgeon will then close the incisions with attention to preserving the appearance of your breast, using stitches (sutures) that will either dissolve on their own or be removed later by your doctor. Your surgeon may also place thin adhesive strips or use glue on the incision to keep it closed until it heals.
After your surgery, you'll be taken to a recovery room. During this time, your blood pressure, pulse and breathing will be monitored.
If you've had outpatient surgery — usually lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy — you'll be released when your condition is stable.
If you've had axillary lymph node dissection, you may need to stay in the hospital for a day or two if you're experiencing pain or bleeding.
Expect to have:
Sentinel node biopsy identifies the first few lymph nodes into which a tumor drains. The surgeon uses a harmless dye and a weak radioactive solution to locate the sentinel nodes. The nodes are removed and tested for signs of cancer.
The results of your procedure should be available in a few days to one week. At the follow-up visit after your surgery, your doctor will explain the results. If you need more treatment, your doctor may recommend meeting with: