What is a lumpectomy?

Lumpectomy is a surgical procedure carried out with general anaesthetic that removes cancer and abnormal tissue from the breasts. It is also known as breast-conserving surgery because compared to a mastectomy only a section of the breast is removed.

Why is a lumpectomy done?

The aim of a lumpectomy is to remove the cancerous tissue whilst conserving the appearance of the breast. Recent studies have indicated that lumpectomy is as effective at preventing cancer returning as a double mastectomy. 

A specialist might recommend a lumpectomy if the cancer found through biopsy is in its early stages and small, as well as being in a suitbale position and only in one area of the breast. Often lumpectomy will be complemented by radiotherapy as well which aims to destroy any remaining cancer cells still in the breast following surgery.

What does a lumpectomy involve?

A lumpectomy is performed using general anaesthesia, meaning you are unaware during the surgery. Firstly the area for excision is located, using a mammogram and biopsy. Once located, the radiologist will place a thin wire or radioactive marker into the section of cancerous breast tissue. This wire placement guides the surgeon in surgery. 

During lumpectomy, the lymph nodes are also often removed. This allows the specialist to determine if the cancer has spread beyond the breast tissue. This will either be done through an axillary node dissection or a sentinel lymph node biopsy. Once tested, if no further cancer is found then no more lymph nodes need to be removed. If there is more cancer, then either further surgery or radiation treatment will be needed.

In surgery, the surgeon makes an incision where the wire is and removes the cancer and surrounding tissue. The incision is closed using stitches, taking care to preserve the appearance of the breast.

How do you prepare for a lumpectomy?

Before surgery, you will have met with your surgeon and discussed how the surgery is performed, as well as expectations for healing and scarring. When you meet your surgeon it is important to have a list of questions you may have so that you understand the procedure and any risks it may carry. 

A lumpectomy can often be carried out as a day-case procedure so a hospital stay is not always required. Prior to surgery certain medications will have to be stopped, and 8-12 hours before surgery you will have to stop drinking and eating. 

Aftercare following a lumpectomy

Following surgery, you will be released from hospital once you are stable and the anaesthesia has mostly worn off. It is important to have someone take you home from the hospital. You can expect the following:

  • A dressing over the excision area
  • Pain medication (and sometimes antibiotics)
  • Some pain or pinching in the armpit area

Getting the results from the lymph nodes will take a week or so and will be discussed in the follow-up appointment with your doctor. Potential further treatment will be discussed in this appointment.

The wound generally takes 2-3 weeks to heal, and it will be bruised and swollen initially. You will be told how to look after the wound at home. It is important to avoid heavy lifting, driving and exercise until your wound has healed.

Are there any alternative treatments to a lumpectomy?

Your breast cancer treatment will depend on where the cancer is located, the size of the cancer, the size of your breasts and your own wishes. Sometimes it is necessary to have a mastectomy (surgery that removes the whole breast). Discussing your options with a specialist will be essential in making your treatment decision.

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