Lumpectomy surgery is a common breast cancer treatment. Unlike a mastectomy (which removes your entire breast), a lumpectomy removes cancer cells and a small margin of healthy breast tissue. It may help you keep more of your breast’s natural look and shape after cancer. After lumpectomy, you may need radiation or other cancer treatments.
A lumpectomy, also known as partial mastectomy or segmentectomy, is breast cancer surgery that removes a tumor in your breast while leaving your breast intact. Lumpectomies can be diagnostic — a procedure that tests whether a tumor is malignant (cancer) or benign (not cancer). More often, a lumpectomy is cancer treatment. The goal is to eliminate all cancer cells by removing the tumor instead of removing your breast entirely, as with a mastectomy.
For this reason, a lumpectomy is often called breast-conserving surgery.
Most people who get a lumpectomy to treat cancer also get radiation therapy afterward. Radiation reduces the likelihood that the cancer will return (recur).
Types of lumpectomy procedures include:
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Your healthcare provider may recommend a lumpectomy if it’ll get rid of the cancer (with little risk of recurrence) while preserving your breast’s appearance. You may be a candidate for a lumpectomy if:
Your provider may advise against getting a lumpectomy if you have:
A lumpectomy may not be the best option if radiation therapy poses risks. You may not be a candidate if:
On the day of your surgery:
During your lumpectomy, your care team will likely remove a few lymph nodes from the armpit closest to your tumor. They’ll send them to a lab to test for cancer cells. This is called a sentinel node biopsy (SNB). Cancer cells (and all other cells) drain into your lymph nodes. If the lymph nodes contain cancer cells, that means your cancer’s spread beyond the tumor.
You’ll likely need additional treatments and tests if the cancer spreads to your lymph nodes.
Your care team may include a reconstructive surgeon, who shapes and repairs your breast immediately after your lumpectomy. Some people wait until the breast tissue has had time to heal (and the breast shape has settled) before reconstructive surgery.
Ask your healthcare provider about your options for reconstructive surgery. If the lump is small, you may not need this procedure. If you do, it’s important to understand how this surgery will impact your care and recovery time.
Lumpectomy and SNB surgery is usually outpatient, meaning you can go home that same day. Locating the tumor and removing it usually takes between one to two hours. It may take longer if you’re having reconstructive surgery alongside a lumpectomy.
You’ll likely be released the same day, as soon as your vitals (pulse, blood pressure and breathing rate) are stabilized enough.
After a lumpectomy, a pathologist will test the cells in the tumor and in your lymph nodes for cancer. These results will determine the next steps. The best-case scenario involves finding no cancer in the lymph nodes and a “negative margin” in the tumor. This means that there are no (negative) cancer cells in the healthy tissue.
Your healthcare provider can advise you on the next steps based on your results.
Most people need three to six weeks of daily radiation therapy after a lumpectomy. But the specific timeline varies based on your diagnosis. Ask your provider what your treatment schedule will look like.
In some cases, you may not need radiation. For example, if you have a type of breast cancer with a very low risk of recurrence, like ductal carcinoma in situ, you may not need radiation therapy. Your provider will recommend treatments based on your unique diagnosis.
The most obvious benefit of a lumpectomy is that you can get rid of the cancer while keeping your breasts. You get to keep the way they look. You get to keep the sensations your breasts allow you to feel.
Lumpectomy used to be the gold standard treatment for early-stage breast cancers only. For this reason, many people think of lumpectomy as the less aggressive treatment option when compared to a mastectomy. The thinking goes: For less serious breast cancers, you can remove the tumor but keep your breast.
But it’s not that straightforward. Research has shown that in many cases (not just early-stage cancer), a lumpectomy with radiation has the same survival outcomes as a mastectomy. It has the same recurrence rate. Increasingly, lumpectomy with radiation has become the recommended first treatment for various types of breast cancer.
The procedure that provides the best benefit depends on numerous factors — like your cancer type, stage and grade (how atypical the cells are) — that your provider can explain to you.
Lumpectomy is a common surgery that’s considered safe and effective. Still, every surgery comes with some risks. Potential complications include:
Your breast’s appearance may change as the tissue heals. You may need to work with a cosmetic surgeon if you’re not pleased with the way your breast looks after surgery.
Most people feel fully recovered two weeks after surgery. You may feel extra tired immediately after surgery and have pain, swelling and bruising. Your provider may send you home with an ice pack to place in your bra to keep swelling down. Typically, symptoms gradually improve each day.
Still, everyone heals at their own pace. Ask your healthcare provider about recommendations for managing pain or discomfort.
Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions on the do’s and don’ts of recovery. For example, they may advise you not to lift anything heavy or to avoid exercise after a certain period. They may advise you to shower instead of taking a bath.
Take care to follow instructions closely.
Let your provider know if you see any signs of an infection, which can pose serious health risks. Call if you notice any of these symptoms in or near the affected breast:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A lumpectomy removes breast cancer while preserving the look and feel of your breasts. This can make you feel more like yourself after breast surgery. While many people think of mastectomies as the more aggressive and foolproof breast cancer treatment, lumpectomy with radiation has comparable survival and recurrence outcomes for many types of breast cancer.
Ultimately, your breast cancer treatment should be highly personalized to your needs. Discuss the pros and cons of treatment options (including a lumpectomy vs. a mastectomy) with your healthcare provider.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/27/2023.
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