A lumpectomy, or breast-conserving surgery (BCS), involves removing cancer from the breast while leaving as much of the normal breast tissue as possible.

During the procedure, a surgeon may also remove some surrounding healthy tissue and some lymph nodes.

In this article, we take a closer look at the lumpectomy procedure, including who might need one, how a person can prepare, what the procedure entails, and what to expect afterward.

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When breast cancer cells form a tumor in a person’s breast, they may undergo surgery to remove the tumor and stop the cancer from spreading.

One surgical option is a lumpectomy. During this procedure, a surgeon removes the tumor from the breast, leaving most of the healthy breast tissue intact. This is an alternative to a mastectomy, which involves removing all, or almost all, of the breast.

A lumpectomy is a type of BCS and is also known as a quadrantectomy, partial mastectomy, or segmental mastectomy.

A lumpectomy is a surgical option for people who have early stage breast cancer.

A person who has a lumpectomy will be able to keep most of their breast. They often require radiation therapy after the procedure to reduce the risk of the cancer returning to the same area.

If a person with early stage breast cancer has a mastectomy, they are less likely to require radiation therapy.

A lumpectomy is suitable for a person who:

  • is concerned about losing their entire breast
  • is willing to undergo radiation therapy
  • has not already had radiation therapy or BCS
  • only has one area of cancer in the breast or multiple areas close together
  • has a tumor smaller than 5 centimeters (2 inches)
  • is not pregnant
  • does not have genetic factors that may increase the risk of developing breast cancer again
  • does not have an issue such as scleroderma or lupus, which makes them sensitive to the side effects of radiation therapy
  • does not have inflammatory breast cancer

In preparation for a lumpectomy, a person will undergo a series of tests to ensure they are fit for surgery.

Standard tests might include:

  • blood tests to check for general health
  • an electrocardiogram (ECG) to check heart health
  • breathing tests or an X-ray to check lung health

Before the surgery takes place, the doctor may also use a mammogram or ultrasound to locate the tumor. A medical professional may then draw markings on the person’s breast to show where the incision will take place.

Questions to ask your doctor

A person should speak to their doctor about the surgery to understand what it involves. They should also ask about how their breast may change after the surgery.

It is important that a person understands other treatment options available to them.

They should also ask their doctor whether they will need radiation therapy after the surgery.

During the procedure, a surgeon will make a curved incision using a scalpel or electric scalpel.

They will often make an incision that follows the natural curve of the breast. This allows for better healing.

The surgeon will then remove the tumor along with some of the healthy tissue that surrounds it.

They will sometimes use a rubber tube to collect excess fluid that has accumulated in the space where the tumor was. This rubber tube is called a drain.

The surgeon will then stitch the incision closed before dressing the wound.

A lumpectomy takes around 15–40 minutes.

Are the lymph nodes removed?

During a lumpectomy, the surgeon may also remove some of the lymph nodes from under the arm.

These nodes are typically the first lymph nodes where the cancer would travel if it spread from the breast. The surgeon may remove some of these nodes to check whether the cancer has started to spread.

There are several categories of aftercare and recovery time:

Medical care

After the surgery, the medical professionals will move the person to a recovery room. Here they will monitor their heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure to make sure all is well.

It is not usually necessary for a person who has undergone a lumpectomy to stay in the hospital overnight. However, if the surgeon removes some lymph nodes, then the person may need to remain overnight.

Home care

Once a person leaves the hospital they will continue their recovery at home, where they will usually consider the following:

Pain medication

A person may receive pain medication they can take at home. This can help them deal with any pain from the operation and ensure that they are comfortable while they recover.

Bandages and dressings

The surgeon may require the person to leave their bandages in place until their follow-up visit. This is usually 1–2 weeks after the surgery.

It is important that a person can correctly care for their bandages and dressings during this period. Their surgeon will advise them on how to do this.

Caring for the drain

If a person has a drain in their breast or armpit, medical professionals may remove it before the person leaves the hospital. However, in some cases, the drain will remain in place for 1–2 weeks after surgery.

If it remains in place, the person should ensure they are able to empty the fluid from the drain a few times a day. The surgeon will show the person how to care for the drain properly before they leave the hospital.

Arm exercises

The person can usually begin doing arm exercises the morning after the surgery.

This can help prevent their arm and shoulder from becoming stiff on the side of the surgery.

Rest

Rest is an important part of recovery. A person may feel fatigued after surgery and should try to rest over the following days.

What to expect during healing

A person should expect to feel tired for the first few days after a lumpectomy. They may also feel some pain. The skin around the incision may be firm, tender to touch, and swollen.

The person’s breast may also be itchy and sensitive to the touch. This is due to nerve injury.

This discomfort may go away without the need for treatment. However, over-the-counter drugs, such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, may help relieve pain.

After a lumpectomy, a person can wear a bra that offers support. This helps minimize any movement of the breast that may cause pain. They may wish to wear this bra during the day and at night. A person with larger breasts may prefer to sleep on the opposite side to where the surgery took place.

The surgeon will usually use stitches that dissolve over time. This means there will be no need for a doctor or medical professional to remove them after the surgery.

How will it affect the appearance of the breast?

A lumpectomy may alter the appearance of a person’s breast. Due to the removal of the tumor and accompanying tissue, the breast may have a dent or a bulge.

The surgery may also cause the breast to change shape or position.

It is important that a person discusses how the lumpectomy may affect their breast’s appearance with their surgeon before undergoing the procedure.

A person who has a lumpectomy can also choose to have breast reconstruction surgery.

Some common side effects of a lumpectomy include:

  • pain or tenderness in the breast
  • a tugging sensation inside the breast
  • temporary swelling
  • hard scar tissue
  • dimples that form at the surgical site
  • change to the shape of the breast
  • burning or shooting pain in the chest, armpit, or arm

After a lumpectomy, a person may undergo radiation therapy. This procedure uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells.

The goal of the procedure is to destroy any cancer cells that may remain in the breast after the lumpectomy, which helps prevent the cancer from returning.

This treatment is painless but may cause some skin irritation.

A person can also decide to have breast reconstruction surgery. This minimizes the effect the lumpectomy has on the appearance of the breast.

Radioactive seed localization and how it relates to lumpectomy

Radioactive seed localization allows the surgeon to locate the area of breast tissue they need to remove.

A radioactive seed is a tiny metal “seed” that contains a small amount of radiation.

A radiologist will take a picture of the breast using a mammogram or ultrasound. They then numb part of the breast and insert a radioactive seed into the target area. This seed remains in place until the lumpectomy takes place.

During the lumpectomy, the surgeon will remove the radioactive seed along with the tumor and breast tissue surrounding it.

Support groups may help people with breast cancer cope with the disease. Studies have shown that support groups for people with breast cancer can provide relational and informative support. They also give people the opportunity to feel understood and reassured throughout their recovery.

Below are some support groups for people with breast cancer:

  • National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) Support Group: The NBCF holds monthly support groups and offers information on its website for people with breast cancer.
  • Cancer Support Community: The Cancer Support Community offers free support groups in a number of cities across the U.S. Its licensed professionals also run online support groups for people who cannot meet in person.
  • American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program: This program helps people cope with breast cancer by pairing people who have recently developed breast cancer with survivors of the disease. These volunteers can offer one-to-one support. People can speak to their volunteers via an online chat, a phone call, or exchanging messages on a smartphone app.
  • Male Breast Cancer Coalition (MBCC): The MBCC is a not-for-profit breast cancer patient advocacy organization that offers information and support for males with breast cancer.

The cost of a lumpectomy varies from state to state across the U.S. The amount a person pays will also depend on their health insurance coverage.

Medicare covers medically necessary treatments for breast cancer, including the cost of a lumpectomy. A person may incur some costs themselves, depending on their healthcare professional and their insurance policy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer a screening program for people from low income households. It is called the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP), and it offers low cost or free screening for breast cancer.

To be eligible for NBCCEDP screening, a person needs to meet the following criteria:

  • They have no insurance or their insurance does not cover screening exams.
  • Their yearly income is at or below 250% of the federal poverty level.
  • They are between 40–64 years old.

Some people who are younger or older may qualify for screening services, too.

The organizations below also offer financial help to people with breast cancer:

  • The Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition (CFAC): This group of organizations provides financial aid to people with breast cancer.
  • CancerCare: This organization provides financial assistance for people with cancer. This can help pay for transportation, home care, and child care.
  • American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge program: If someone is undergoing cancer treatment far from their home, the Hope Lodge program may offer family members a free place to stay nearby.
  • The Pink Fund: This organization offers funding for cost-of-living expenses to breast cancer patients in active treatment for up to 90 days.
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): This grant program is in place to help people from low income households. It offers monthly funding to help with payment for household items, transport, phone calls, and medical supplies not covered by Medicaid.

A lumpectomy is a surgical procedure that involves removing a tumor from a person’s breast. This procedure aims to leave as much normal breast tissue in place as possible. It is an alternative to a mastectomy, which involves removing the entire breast.

During a lumpectomy, the surgeon may also remove some surrounding healthy tissue and some lymph nodes.

After a lumpectomy, people may undergo radiation therapy to ensure the cancer does not return.