If you've been diagnosed with breast cancer, your doctor may recommend a lumpectomy as a method of treatment.
A lumpectomy is considered a breast-conserving surgery because, rather than removing an entire breast (as in a mastectomy), the surgeon removes just the area of the breast where there is cancer.
This technique allows surgeons to maintain the appearance of your breast as much as possible.
A lumpectomy can be very effective even though it's the least-invasive form of breast cancer surgery. In some cases, the procedure can prevent the need for further surgery.
When Is a Lumpectomy Performed?
Your doctor may recommend a lumpectomy if you have been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, or to remove certain noncancerous or precancerous breast abnormalities.
You may not be a good candidate for a lumpectomy if you have any of the following:
- Scleroderma, which hardens the skin and other tissues, making healing after a lumpectomy difficult
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a chronic inflammatory disease that can get worse from radiation
- Several tumors in different areas of your breast that would require more than one incision
- Past radiation treatments in the same breast region, which would make more radiation treatments risky
- Cancer that has spread throughout your breast and overlying skin
- A tumor that is large compared with your breasts, so that removing the tumor would leave a poor cosmetic result
What Happens in a Lumpectomy?
A lumpectomy is often performed under general anesthesia, which means that you're unconscious during the procedure.
The surgeon makes an incision in the breast and removes the tumor, along with a small portion of tissue around the tumor, to make sure that all of the cancer is removed.
The surgeon may also make an incision in the underarm area and remove some lymph nodes.
At the end of the surgery, your doctor will close the incisions with stitches.
A lumpectomy is often followed by radiation therapy to reduce the risk of the cancer’s returning.
Lumpectomy Risks and Side Effects
The following side effects can occur after a lumpectomy:
- Soreness in your chest, underarm, and shoulder
- Numbness around the surgical incision
- Hard scar tissue (keloid) where the surgery took place
- Changes in the shape and appearance of your breast, particularly if a large portion was removed
- Numbness and swelling in your arm (called lymphedema) if you had lymph nodes removed