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Home > Understanding Breast Cancer > Treatment > Deciding Between Mastectomy and Lumpectomy


Deciding Between Mastectomy and Lumpectomy



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Mastectomy Video
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It may be hard to decide whether to have a mastectomy or a lumpectomy (also called breast conserving surgery). First, talk to your surgeon to see if you can have a lumpectomy plus radiation therapy, or if you need a mastectomy. If both are options, weigh the risks and benefits of each surgery and choose the one that is right for you.

Komen Perspectives 

Read our perspective on mastectomy versus lumpectomy for breast cancer treatment (February 2011).* 

Neoadjuvant therapy and surgery options 

Even if you cannot have a lumpectomy upfront, your oncologist may discuss neoadjuvant (preoperative) therapy with you. For some women, neoadjuvant therapy may shrink the tumor enough so a lumpectomy becomes an option instead of a mastectomy.  

Learn more about neoadjuvant therapy

Survival and recurrence with lumpectomy and mastectomy


Overall survival with lumpectomy plus radiation therapy is the same as with mastectomy [7].


With lumpectomy, there is a slightly higher rate of the cancer returning to the breast (called recurrence or local recurrence) [7]. Any recurrence must be treated.  

The risk of cancer spreading to other organs (called metastasis and the main cause of breast cancer death) is the same for both procedures [7].  

Learn more about breast cancer recurrence.  

Learn more about metastatic breast cancer.    

 52031-2.gif  For a summary of research studies on mastectomy versus lumpectomy plus radiation and overall survival, visit the Breast Cancer Research section.

Risks and benefits of mastectomy and lumpectomy

There are risks and benefits to consider when choosing between mastectomy and lumpectomy plus radiation therapy. These are outlined in Figure 5.3 below.   

The main benefit of lumpectomy plus radiation therapy is that the breast is preserved as much as possible.  

A potential benefit of mastectomy is that radiation therapy may be avoided. Although some women will need radiation therapy after mastectomy, many will not. (Ask your health care team if you are likely to avoid radiation therapy if you have a mastectomy.) If you do not need radiation therapy, you won’t have its side effects and the daily trips to a treatment center. If you live in an area without access to radiation treatment centers, or if you cannot have radiation therapy, this is an important benefit.    

Figure 5.3: Total Mastectomy versus Lumpectomy plus Radiation Therapy 

Total Mastectomy 

Lumpectomy plus Radiation Therapy 

Treatment for early breast cancer Very effective Very effective
Amount of tissue removed Entire breast Part of breast (tries to keep the original look of the breast)
Extent of surgery Major surgery with general anesthesia  Less extensive surgery with general anesthesia or regional anesthesia 
Hospital stay Overnight hospital stay needed Often go home on same day as surgery (if axillary dissection is not done)
Radiation therapy Sometimes done Routinely done
Temporary soreness of chest, underarm and shoulder Yes Yes
Chance of breast cancer recurrence  Very low for early stages of breast cancer Low for early stages of breast cancer (but slightly higher than with mastectomy)
Chance of lymphedema (if have axillary dissection) Yes Yes


What to expect after surgery


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With either type of surgery, you are likely to have temporary soreness in your chest, underarm and shoulder. Learn more about the management of surgery-related pain.

If lymph nodes in the underarm area (axillary nodes) are removed during surgery, you may also have some numbness in your arm and there is some risk of lymphedema. Lymphedema is a condition where fluid collects in the arm (or other area such as the hand, fingers, chest or back), causing it to swell.

Learn more about lymphedema.

Chemotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted therapy after surgery

The type of surgery you have does not affect whether you will have chemotherapy, hormone therapy or targeted therapy. These drug therapies are given based on the characteristics of the tumor, not your surgery.

Learn about tumor characteristics and other factors that affect these treatment options.

Regional differences in lumpectomy rates in the United States

Lumpectomy rates vary across the United States. Lumpectomy is more common among women who live on the East and West Coasts, with the highest rates in the Northeast [8-9]. For example, from 2000 to 2006, about 72 percent of women in Connecticut with early breast cancer had a lumpectomy versus about 54 percent of women in Iowa [10].

Part of the regional differences in rates is due to personal preferences that can vary based on where you live. For example, women who live far from a center offering radiation therapy (needed for lumpectomy) may prefer to have mastectomy.

Other factors also play a role. Personal preference matters a lot. Some women very much wish to keep their breasts while for other women, mastectomy offers peace of mind. However, differences in rates also can occur when health care providers do not encourage women who are candidates for lumpectomy to consider the procedure.

Among women with equal access to health care, there does not appear to be a difference in rates of lumpectomy between African American and white women [11]. 


For a table showing differences in rates of mastectomy in the United States, visit the Breast Cancer Research section.


Talking to your health care provider about surgery options

It is important to learn about your surgery options and talk openly with your health care provider about your treatment. You should feel confident you are getting the best treatment possible. Never hesitate to get a second or even a third opinion from providers at different hospitals or practices. This is especially important if you are not satisfied with the rationale for your treatment plan.

Learn more about Getting Good Care.

* Please note, the information provided within Komen Perspectives articles is current as of the date of posting. Therefore, some information may be out of date at this time. 

Updated 04/24/13


Mastectomy - The Surgical Procedure 

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