Lumpectomy is a common surgical procedure designed to remove a breast tumor, or “lump”, and some of the adjacent breast tissues. The focus of a lumpectomy is to rid the body of cancer, while also preserving or conserving as much of the breast as possible.
In technical usage, the term lumpectomy represents a partial mastectomy. A mastectomy is defined as the surgical removal of the breast. The amount of the breast removed during a lumpectomy can vary significantly, but as long as portions of the breast are left intact, the procedure is rarely defined as a mastectomy.
After the surgery is performed, the extracted tissues are sent to a laboratory for histological (microscopic) evaluation. If the tissues or lymph nodes surrounding the tumor also contain cancerous cells, additional surgery or treatment modalities may be necessary.
Patients who undergo a lumpectomy are often prescribed radiation treatments following the procedure. This is known as adjuvant treatment, meaning that the lumpectomy is performed alongside other treatment modalities.
Lumpectomy is the preferred method of treatment for breast cancer because it preserves the cosmetic appearance of the breast. In many cases, lumpectomy is just as effective as radical mastectomy (complete breast removal), making it the first-rate breast cancer treatment modality. Today, the vast majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer undergo lumpectomy. This procedure has allowed many breast cancer patients to live long, vibrant lives in the absence of certain complications associated with radical mastectomy.
Certain circumstances may comprise a woman’s candidacy for lumpectomy. These circumstances may include:
- Multiple Breast Tumors: If several tumors are present throughout the breast, lumpectomy may result in the severe disfiguration of the breast. In such a case, radical mastectomy is the preferred treatment, alongside radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or hormonal therapy.
- Pregnancy: The radiation therapy commonly prescribed to follow lumpectomy may injure or kill the fetus. If lumpectomy necessitates radiation therapy, then other treatment strategies are usually employed to treat pregnant women.
- Large Tumors: If a breast tumor is larger than approximately 5cm, then lumpectomy may result in the drastic disfiguration of the breast. Depending on a variety of circumstances, the size of a large tumor may be reduced with chemotherapy or hormonal therapy. If this is possible, then lumpectomy may appropriately treat large breast tumors.
- Prior Radiation Exposure: If you’ve been treated with radiation therapy for a previous disorder, you may not be eligible for lumpectomy. Since radiation treatments damage healthy cells, the radiation therapy associated with lumpectomy may amplify the cell damage that you’ve already received.
- Tumor Location: If the breast tumor is attached to nearby structures, such as the chest wall, adjacent bones, or the skin, then more extensive surgery may be required to rid the body of cancer.
- Metastatic Breast Cancer: If the breast cancer has metastasized (spread) to other locations throughout the body, then lumpectomy would not sufficiently rid the body of cancer. In these cases, a multifaceted treatment strategy is usually employed. These strategies may include any combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, hormonal therapy, and a variety of alternative treatment options.
If you are a candidate for lumpectomy surgery, this is what to expect before the procedure:
- The tumor will be located and marked using mammogram techniques and ultrasound technology.
- A surgeon or nurse may make markings on your breast, indicating where the physician will make an incision. These markings are painlessly produced with a marker or other basic writing instrument.
- You will be given anesthesia via intravenous infusion (IV) in your arm or hand. You will be given the option to receive local anesthesia for the surgery. Local anesthesia numbs the area of the incision, whereas general anesthesia produces numbing effects throughout the body.
During a Lumpectomy
The surgery usually takes approximately 15 to 40 minutes.
An incision is made into the breast. This incision is designed to conform to the natural curve of the breast, helping to preserve the cosmetic appearance of the breast. Typically, the incision in made with an electrocautery knife (a heated scalpel that keeps bleeding to a minimum).
After making the incision, the surgeon locates the tumor and cuts it out of the breast along with some adjacent tissues. If fluids have built up in the breast as a result of the malignancy, a tube may be inserted into the breast to remove any excess fluid.
Once tumor and adjacent tissues have been removed, the surgeon will close the wound with stitches. Bandages will be placed over the site of surgery, and the stitches will eventually dissolve.
After a Lumpectomy
After lumpectomy, you will be moved into a surgery recovery room. Here, you will be given time to overcome the common aftereffects of surgery, including tiredness, nausea, and overall discomfort. Most women are sent home with care instructions the day of the surgery.
Following surgery, your doctor will emphasize the importance of preventing infection. He or she will provide you with the necessary information, medications, and other tools to prevent the onset of infection.
As a whole, postsurgical features are dependent on the health of the patient, the size and location of the tumor, and the various personal preferences of the patient and her doctor.
Lumpectomy Side Effects
The side effects of lumpectomy are common to all surgical procedures. These effects may include:
- Tissue Damage
- General Feelings of Discomfort
These side effects are often temporal, subsiding within days. If they persist, you will be prescribed medications and/or therapies that will drastically minimize or reverse their effects.