Lumpectomy (also called breast conserving surgery, partial mastectomy or wide excision) is often done under general anesthesia. So, you are asleep during the surgery. In some cases, regional anesthesia may be used.
The surgeon makes an incision (cut) in the breast and removes the tumor, along with a small rim of normal tissue around it.
The surgeon then closes the skin with stitches, trying to keep the breast looking as much as possible like it did before surgery.
The surgeon may also remove some lymph nodes in the underarm area.
The tissue removed during surgery is sent to a pathologist for testing.
Learn about test results and other information found in your pathology report.
In some cases, the surgeon uses special methods to help find the tumor in the breast.
Sometimes breast cancers found by mammography (or other imaging) are nonpalpable (cannot be felt).
If the tumor is nonpalpable, a procedure called wire-localization or radioactive seed localization will be done just before surgery.
Local anesthesia is used with this procedure.
A radiologist will use a mammogram, breast ultrasound or breast MRI as a guide and insert a very thin wire or radioactive seed- (radio-seed-) localization into the breast in the area of the cancer. The surgeon then uses the wire or seed as a guide to find and remove the tumor during surgery. The wire or seed will be removed during surgery.
A core needle biopsy is usually used to diagnose breast cancer. It removes a small amount of tumor tissue.
During a core needle biopsy, a radio-opaque clip is often placed in the breast to mark the location of the tumor. (You cannot feel the clip.)
Later, during the lumpectomy surgery, the surgeon uses the clip, along with the wire or radioactive seed, as guide to find and remove the tumor. The clip is usually removed during the surgery.
A pathologist checks the tissue removed during breast surgery. By looking at the tissue under the microscope, the pathologist determines whether the entire tumor was removed.
The pathologist looks at the rim of tissue around the tumor (called a margin) to check whether it contains cancer cells. It takes about a week to do a complete check of the tissue.
Clean (also called uninvolved or negative) margins contain only normal tissue (no cancer cells).
In some cases, more surgery is needed to get clean margins.
Learn more about assessing tumor margins.
If breast cancer spreads, the lymph nodes in the underarm area (axillary nodes) are the first place it’s likely to go.
During lumpectomy for invasive breast cancer, some axillary lymph nodes are removed to check for cancer cells. Often, there's a separate incision in the underarm area (below where your underarm hair grows) to remove these nodes.
The presence or absence of cancer in the axillary nodes is an important factor affecting cancer stage, prognosis and treatment.
Learn more about assessing axillary lymph nodes.
The length of the hospital stay after lumpectomy depends largely on whether axillary lymph nodes are removed.
Usually, you can go home the same day as the surgery.
It's a good idea to discuss the expected length of your stay with your surgeon and insurance provider.
If you have a sentinel node biopsy or you don't have axillary nodes removed, you will likely go home the same day as your surgery.
If you have an axillary dissection, you may go home the same day or you may stay overnight in the hospital.
A tube (surgical drain) may be placed in the underarm area to collect fluid. This drain stays in for a week to 10 days after surgery.
Learn more about sentinel node biopsy and axillary dissection.
After lumpectomy, you'll likely have some soreness in your chest, underarm and shoulder.
You may feel a firm ridge below the scar while it heals (called a healing ridge).
You will also likely have numbness along the surgical incision (scar).
If axillary lymph nodes are removed during surgery, you may also have some numbness and a burning feeling under and behind your arm. There is also 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. Today, lymphedema is not common. If it does occur, it usually develops within 3 years of breast surgery .
Learn more about the management of surgery-related pain.
Women may choose lumpectomy over mastectomy to keep their breast and have it look (as much as possible) like it did before surgery.
However, lumpectomy will change the look of the breast. Because some tissue is removed, the breast may be smaller and firmer. There will be a scar and some numbness.
Radiation therapy (usually given after lumpectomy) can also affect the look of the breast. It can further shrink the breast and change its texture or feel.
Sometimes, factors like the location and size of the tumor can make it unlikely a woman will be happy with the look of her breast after lumpectomy. In these cases, mastectomy (with or without breast reconstruction) may be the better option.
In rare cases, a woman may have breast reconstruction (either at the time of the lumpectomy or later) to maintain a more natural appearance of the breast, or to match the size and shape of the other breast.
Reconstructive surgeries are complex, so it’s best to meet with a plastic surgeon to discuss your options.
You may not live near the hospital where you will have your surgery.
Sometimes, there are programs that help with local or long-distance transportation and lodging. Some also offer transportation and lodging for a friend or family member going with you.
There are also programs to help you with child care and elder care costs.
Learn more about transportation, lodging, child care and elder care assistance.
Susan G. Komen®’s Breast Care Helpline: 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636)
Calls to our Breast Care Helpline are answered by a trained and caring staff member Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET and from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. PT. Our helpline provides free, professional support services to anyone with breast cancer questions or concerns, including people diagnosed with breast cancer and their families.
You can also email the helpline at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Breast Cancer 101