Breast cancer treatment

Lumpectomy and mastectomy procedures are both performed to remove breast cancer. While both are effective, they have different benefits and risks.

A lumpectomy preserves the breast, while a mastectomy removes it. Your doctor will help you decide which is best for you. The location and stage of your cancer are significant factors when deciding between the two, as well as patient characteristics such as the size of your breasts.


A lumpectomy is a surgery that removes breast cancer while preserving the breast. A lumpectomy attempts to leave the breast looking as close to the original as possible.

During this surgery, your doctor will remove the tumor and any surrounding tissue that has been affected. Other names associated with this procedure include:

  • biopsy
  • breast-conserving surgery
  • Re-excision

After the procedure, your doctor will check to make sure all cancer has been removed. If it has, the lumpectomy was successful. If not, your doctor may need to remove more tissue. In more severe cases, a lumpectomy may no longer be an option.

You will likely need radiation therapy (RT) after a lumpectomy to prevent recurrent cancer and to destroy any remaining cancer cells.

This procedure is recommended for patients with a less invasive form of cancer. If cancer has spread throughout the breast or if the tumor is too large, doctors may recommend a mastectomy.


A mastectomy treats breast cancer by removing the entire breast.

There are five types of mastectomy procedures:

  • Simple (total). In this procedure, your doctor removes the entire breast, but does not remove any lymph nodes in your underarm or muscle beneath the breast. A simple (total) mastectomy is recommended for women looking to prevent breast cancer from ever occurring.
  • Modified radical. This mastectomy removes the entire breast and some lymph nodes. However, no muscle is removed. Doctors perform this form of mastectomy to examine the lymph nodes and determine if the cancer has spread beyond the breast.
  • Radical. This is the most invasive type of mastectomy. A radical mastectomy removes the entire breast, underarm lymph nodes, and muscles in the chest. This procedure is only recommended if your cancer has spread to the chest muscles in the breast.
  • Partial. In this procedure, doctors remove the portion of the breast affected by cancer and some surrounding tissue. Though similar to a lumpectomy, this procedure removes more tissue.
  • Subcutaneous. Also known as a nipple-sparing mastectomy, this surgery moves all breast tissue but preserves the nipple.

Lumpectomy and mastectomy procedures are both effective treatments for breast cancer. Research shows there is no difference in survival rate from either procedure, though lumpectomy has a slightly higher risk of recurrent cancer.

The main differences between the two surgeries involve peace of mind and potential side effects.

Lumpectomy benefits

The lumpectomy is less invasive compared to a mastectomy. The surgery focuses on the affected tissue, which helps to preserve the natural shape of your breast. In many cases, a lumpectomy is a same-day procedure that allows you to return home following surgery.

Lumpectomy risks

A lumpectomy has a higher risk of recurrent cancer. If your cancer comes back after a lumpectomy, you’ll need additional surgery.

People who get a lumpectomy also usually have to get radiation therapy (RT) to ensure all traces of cancer are gone. You might have to get RT five days per week for up to seven weeks.

Negative side effects from radiation therapy include:

Mastectomy benefits

The mastectomy provides the most peace of mind. Removing the entire breast has a greater chance in preventing recurrent breast cancer, and lowers the risk of needing additional surgeries.

In addition, people who have a mastectomy typically don’t need radiation therapy, which can be time consuming and painful.

Mastectomy risks

A mastectomy is more invasive than a lumpectomy and requires a longer hospital stay. Your recovery time may be longer, and you may also experience some side effects, including:

A mastectomy is also a permanent removal of your breast, which can have psychological effects. Many women choose to have breast reconstruction following a mastectomy, which has an associated cost and longer recovery time.

Determining which surgery to get is an important decision. Be sure to discuss your options with your doctor. Don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion and do your own research.

With research and professional guidance, you can take an active role in your treatment by deciding which procedure is best for you.