Learning you have breast cancer brings a wide range of emotions and questions to mind. And it’s understandable to be worried you might lose one or both breasts.

But breast cancer surgical techniques continue to advance, offering ways to preserve healthy breast tissue. If your breast cancer was caught early, you may be a candidate for lumpectomy – a form of breast-conserving surgery (BCS). 

What is a Lumpectomy?

Lumpectomy is surgery to remove the tumor (or lump) and other abnormal tissue while maintaining the appearance of the breast. It’s sometimes called partial mastectomy, wide local excision or quadrantectomy.

Lumpectomy may be a good option for you if you meet these criteria:

  • Your tumor is small and hasn’t spread. Women who have this surgery usually have a single breast cancer tumor less than 5 centimeters in diameter.
  • You have enough normal breast tissue available that lumpectomy won’t result in a misshapen breast.
  • You’re willing and able to receive breast radiation therapy. Most women need radiation therapy after lumpectomy.
  • You don’t carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations, which can increase the risk of your breast cancer coming back.

Research has shown that having a lumpectomy with radiation is just as effective as having your breast removed.

Lumpectomy Procedure: What to Expect

Your Mercy cancer care team will make sure you understand what to expect before, during and after your lumpectomy.

Surgery may be performed with local or general anesthesia. During the procedure, your Mercy surgeon removes the breast cancer tumor and a small amount of surrounding tissue. Most of the skin covering your breast (including your nipple and areola) usually remains intact. If it's necessary to remove your nipple and areola, you may be able to have them restored with breast reconstruction surgery.

In addition, your surgeon may remove and examine lymph nodes during your lumpectomy to determine whether the cancer has spread beyond your breast. Lymph node removal options include:

  • Sentinel lymph node biopsy – The lymph node (or nodes) draining the lymphatic fluid from the tumor are removed and checked for cancer.
  • Axillary node dissection – Several lymph nodes in your underarm are removed and examined to determine if cancer has spread to more than one lymph node. 

Lumpectomy Recovery

When your lumpectomy is finished, you’ll be moved to the recovery room. Your vital signs will be monitored to make sure you’re stable after surgery. Most patients go home the same day.

You’ll receive post-surgical instructions for pain management, caring for the surgery site, bathing (if you have drains or stiches that aren’t absorbable), wearing a support bra and any arm exercises to do at home.

You may feel tired when you get home, so be sure to get plenty of rest. You should be able to return to normal activities in a few days.

You’ll have a follow-up visit with your Mercy doctor to discuss the results of your lumpectomy. 

Side Effects of Breast-Conserving Surgery

Breast-conserving surgery is a desirable treatment option for early-stage breast cancer. But as with any surgery, you may experience side effects. Common issues after lumpectomy include:

  • Temporary swelling of your breast
  • Breast pain or tenderness that feels like a “tugging” sensation
  • Change in breast shape
  • Nerve pain in the underarm, arm or chest wall that doesn’t go away
  • If lymph nodes are removed, lymphedema may occur

Breast Reconstruction Surgery After Lumpectomy

Your breast may look different after a lumpectomy. You may have a small scar or dimpled skin where the tumor was removed. Or the shape of your breast may change. If you’re concerned surgery will affect your breast size or symmetry, talk to your doctor before your lumpectomy. Mercy offers many breast reconstruction surgery options, including surgical techniques that reshape the breast at the time of your lumpectomy.

Treatment After Lumpectomy

Besides radiation therapy, you might need other treatments to help prevent your cancer from returning. These may include hormone therapy or chemotherapy. Your doctor will help you understand what to expect from these treatments.

It’s normal to feel anxious about receiving cancer treatment, but Mercy is here for you. We’ll provide the support and encouragement you need throughout your recovery and beyond.

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