Lumpectomy is a surgical treatment for breast cancer in which only the tumor and some surrounding tissue is removed. This is the less drastic of the two main surgical methods of treating breast cancer; the other, mastectomy, involves the removal of all breast tissue. For this reason, lumpectomy is often referred to as breast-conserving or breast preservation surgery or partial mastectomy.

Lumpectomy vs. Mastectomy

The size of the tumor in relation to the breast is the main factor in a doctor's determination of whether a mastectomy or lumpectomy is the proper course of action. Lumpectomy is typically preferred when the cancer has been diagnosed early and the tumor is still small. If the tumor is too large, a full mastectomy may be a more appropriate treatment.

Women with multiple tumors in different locations on the breast, or who have previously undergone lumpectomy with radiation, are usually not good candidates for this procedure. Some women opt for mastectomy even when lumpectomy would be possible in order to feel more confident that the cancer has been removed.

Before Your Surgery

Be sure that you understand how much breast tissue the surgeon expects to remove. The size and location of the tumor determine how much of the breast must be removed during the lumpectomy procedure. Before the lumpectomy, the doctor will perform a physical examination and mammogram. A breast biopsy or other procedures may be used to determine the composition, size, or location of the tumor prior to surgery.

The Lumpectomy Procedure

Lumpectomy procedures can be performed either with local anesthesia and sedation or with general anesthesia. The surgeon makes an incision over the targeted tumor or around the areola. During the surgery, the suspected malignant tumor or lump is removed. The surgeon also removes some of the surrounding tissue in order to make sure the entire tumor has been removed. Lymph nodes located near the armpit may also be removed; both the removed breast tissue and these nodes will be tested for cancerous cells. A separate incision near the armpit may be needed to remove the lymph nodes. Once the targeted tissues have been removed, the incisions are closed with sutures. The entire process takes between one and three hours.

Following Lumpectomy

Most lumpectomy patients return home the same day as their procedure, although some stay in the hospital for one or two nights. Patients who undergo this procedure typically take about a week away from work and other obligations. In general, the more of the breast that was removed, the longer the healing process will take. Pain, soreness, redness, and bleeding are common during this time. Physical activities should be restricted, and a surgical bra should be worn to support the breasts as they heal.

Most doctors schedule a follow-up visit with the patient about one to two weeks after the surgery. The doctor should have the results of any lab tests performed on the breast tissue by this time. The doctor will check the progress of healing and discuss any additional treatments that may be necessary. After the lumpectomy procedure, patients typically receive about six weeks of radiation therapy in order to kill any remaining cancer cells.

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