Removing a breast lump can be both part of the diagnosis process for cancer and treatment for it.
Breast lump removal is the surgical removal of a cancerous lump inside the breast. It’s also known as a lumpectomy.
A biopsy can show a lump in the breast is cancerous. The goal of the procedure is to remove the lump and some healthy tissue around the tumor. When your doctor removes healthy tissue and the lump, it will help ensure that all cancer cells are gone.
A mastectomy may also be done, which is a complete surgical removal of the breast. Evidence shows that a lumpectomy is just as effective as a mastectomy in the early stages of breast cancer, according to Mayo Clinic.
Breast lump removal is performed to prevent a cancerous tumor from spreading to other parts of your body. Whether a doctor can perform a lumpectomy depends on the size and stage of the tumor and certain patient characteristics such as the size of your breast.
Many doctors prefer this method over a mastectomy. A lumpectomy is less invasive than the entire removal of the breast. In a lumpectomy, your doctor takes a part of the breast, which leaves much of your breast’s appearance and sensations intact. This allows for better breast symmetry. But you may need radiation or chemotherapy following a lumpectomy to ensure all cancer cells have been destroyed.
All surgeries carry the risks of allergic reaction, bleeding, and infection.
After breast lump removal surgery, your breast may be numb if the nerves were affected. The shape of your breast may also change. And there may be tenderness and temporary swelling after surgery.
If you choose to have a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy, you may have radiation therapy five times per week for five to seven weeks after surgery. The side effects of radiation include fatigue and skin changes like redness and burning.
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, tell your surgeon about any allergies and medications you take, including over-the-counter drugs and supplements. You should also mention if you’re pregnant or you think you may be pregnant.
Your doctor may advise you to stop taking any blood thinners up to a week before your surgery. This cuts down your risk of bleeding. You’ll also need to fast and avoid drinking liquids for up to 8 to 12 hours before surgery.
Bring a list of questions you for your doctor. You may want to bring a friend or family member with you to take notes. It can also be helpful to bring someone with you on the day of your surgery. A companion can provide support, 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.
Before 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 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, your surgeon may have placed a metal marker, or clip, near the site. If that’s the case, a thin wire will be used to locate the clip. This wire helps guide your surgeon to the right spot for the incision.
Your surgeon will remove the tumor and 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 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 go to the recovery room. Your vital signs will be monitored while you wake up from the anesthesia. When you wake up, you can expect some pain in the incision area. You’ll be given medication for the pain.
In the weeks following surgery, you’ll need to restrict your activities. It takes time to heal. It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions for care after surgery.
You will need to take care of the incision at home. The stitches may dissolve on their own or your doctor will remove them during a follow-up appointment. If radiation therapy is necessary, it typically starts within a few weeks of a lumpectomy procedure.
In rare cases, depending on the size of the lump removed, you may choose to have breast reconstruction surgery. This is done after any radiation therapy is complete. However, most women don’t 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 symmetrical breasts, talk to your doctor about options before surgery. Your surgeon may recommend a mastectomy. A mastectomy may also be recommended if you’re concerned about the cancer returning or if you don’t want radiation.
You might need additional surgeries if the whole tumor wasn’t fully removed during the initial surgery.