Breast lump removal is the surgical removal of a cancerous lump inside the breast. It is also known as lumpectomy.
It is done when biopsy results show that a lump in the breast is cancerous. The goal of the surgery is to remove the lump and (usually) some healthy tissue around the tumor. The inclusion of healthy tissue helps the doctor ensure that all cancer cells are gone.
The Mayo Clinic states that evidence shows lumpectomy is just as effective as a mastectomy in the early stages of breast cancer (Mayo Clinic). Mastectomy is complete surgical removal of the breast.
Breast lump removal is performed to prevent a cancerous tumor from spreading to other parts of the body. The ability to perform a lumpectomy depends on the size and stage of the tumor.
Many doctors prefer this method over a mastectomy. It can maintain more of the shape of the breast. This allows for a better chance to maintain breast symmetry. However, a lumpectomy may need to be followed up with radiation or chemotherapy to ensure all cancer cells are killed.
Breastcancer.org shares these facts about which women receive lumpectomies versus mastectomies:
- Women in the United States are more likely to undergo mastectomies than women in other countries.
- Mastectomies are particularly common in the Midwestern and southern United States.
- Lumpectomies are more common in university hospitals than community hospitals.
- Surgeons trained before 1981 typically perform more mastectomies. They used to be the standard of care (Breastcancer.org).
All surgeries carry the risk of allergic reaction, bleeding, and infection.
After breast lump removal surgery, you may have numbness in your breast if nerves were affected. You may also experience changes in the shape of the breast. It may take some time for you to be comfortable with your breast’s appearance.
There may be tenderness and temporary swelling after surgery.
If you opt for a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy, it is likely that you will have radiation therapy five times a week for five to seven weeks after surgery. Side effects of radiation include fatigue, nausea, and vomiting.
Prior to surgery, you’ll have several appointments with your doctor. These will include physical examinations and imaging with X-rays or mammography. The goal is to determine the size and shape of the tumor.
A few days before the surgery, you’ll meet with your surgeon. During this meeting, inform your surgeon of any allergies and medications you take—including over-the-counter drugs and supplements. You should also mention if you’re pregnant or concerned you may be pregnant.
Your doctor will probably advise you to stop taking any blood-thinning medication up to a week before your surgery. This cuts down your risk of bleeding. You’ll also need to fast—including avoiding liquids—up to 8 to 12 hours before surgery.
At your doctor visits, bring with you the list of questions you would like answered. It’s easy to forget questions during times of stress. You may want to bring a friend or family member with you to take notes.
The day of surgery, it is helpful to bring someone with you. He or she can help provide support, help listen to any instructions after surgery, and give you a ride home. If no one is available to stay with you, talk to your doctor about alternative ways to get help.
Prior to surgery, you’ll change into a hospital gown and be given anesthesia. If local anesthesia is used, you may be given a sedative to relax you during the breast lump removal. If you’re given general anesthesia, you’ll be in a painless sleep during the entire procedure.
Your surgeon will begin by locating the tumor. During your biopsy, you surgeon may have placed a metal marker (or clip) near the site. If that’s the case, he or she will use a thin wire to locate the clip. This wire helps guide your surgeon to the right spot for the incision.
Your surgeon will not only remove the tumor. He or she will also remove some healthy cells around the tumor. This ensures that the entire tumor is removed. The lump is then sent to a laboratory for testing.
During the surgery, your doctor may remove lymph nodes from under your arm on the side of your breast. They will be tested to see if the cancer has spread.
Following the successful removal of the tumor and any lymph nodes, the incision will be closed with stitches and bandaged.
After the procedure, you’ll be moved to the recovery room. Your vital signs will be monitored while you wake up from the anesthesia.
When you wake, you can expect some pain in the incision area. You’ll be given medication to deal with the pain.
In the weeks following surgery, you’ll be on restricted activity. It takes time to heal. It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions for care after surgery.
You will need to care for the incision at home. The stitches may dissolve on their own or will be removed by your doctor at a later date. You’ll typically start radiation therapy within a few weeks of a lumpectomy.
Depending on the size of the lump removed, you may choose to have breast reconstruction surgery. This is done after radiation therapy is complete. However, most women do not need reconstruction after this type of surgery. That is one of the advantages of lumpectomy.
If you have a large tumor and are very concerned about having matching breasts, talk to your doctor about options before surgery. Your surgeon may recommend a mastectomy. A mastectomy may also be recommended if you are very worried about cancer recurrence or do not want radiation.
You may need additional surgeries if the whole tumor wasn’t fully removed during the initial surgery.