Surgical Procedures: Lumpectomy

OncoLink Team
The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: November 14, 2013

Also Referred to as: Breast sparing surgery; Partial mastectomy; Breast conserving therapy, BCT

What is a Lumpectomy?

A lumpectomy is a surgical procedure that removes only the breast cancer, and not the whole breast. In the operating room, under anesthesia, the cancer is surgically removed along with a small area of normal breast tissue surrounding the cancer. The borders of the tissue removed are referred to as surgical margins and should be clear of cancer. This reduces the risk of cancer growing back in the same breast.

Will I Stay Overnight?

No. This is usually done as an outpatient or "same day" surgery.

Could I Need More Surgery?

If the pathology report says that cancer is seen at or close to the surgical margin, more surgery may be recommended to obtain "clear margins."

What is Recovery Like?

Your surgeon will discuss specific recovery issues with you. In general, you will be up and moving the day after surgery, with some limitations to your normal schedule and exercise routine in the first week or so. After surgery, you could experience any of the following side effects, which will resolve over time:

  • Pain or sensitivity in surgery area
  • Breast swelling
  • Bruising
  • Lump or firmness at the surgical site

What Will I Need at Home?

  • A supportive, preferably non-underwire, cotton bra or sports bra to wear the days and weeks after surgery.
  • 4 x 4 gauze pads to place inside your bra for comfort and protection (no need to use any tape). Gauze pads can be found at your supermarket or pharmacy.
  • Clean, comfy pillow(s) to put under your arm while sitting or to help with positioning at night.
  • You may experience constipation after surgery due to anesthesia and pain medications. Over-the-counter medications, diet, exercise (as simple as walking) and fluids may ease constipation. Ask your health-care team about over-the-counter medications that may work for you.

General Incision Care

If you have a post-surgical bandage, remove per your surgeon's instructions (often within 48 hours). Once the bandage is removed, you may shower, but do not scrub the incision. To dry, carefully pat the incision with a clean towel. Avoid lotions, powders or deodorant on or near the incision during the first 1-2 weeks until it is fully closed.

Most surgeons use dissolvable sutures so you won't see any sutures and they don't need to be removed. On the outside, some surgeons apply surgical glue over the incision to give added protection; others use paper tape called "steri-strips" while some use nothing at all. Both glue and steri-strips can get wet in the shower.

How Can I Help Myself?

Walking is good. Take rest periods throughout the day as needed. Move your arm on the side of surgery as naturally as possible; do not feel as if you have to guard the area.

Deep breathing and relaxation are important to help with pain, keep lungs healthy after anesthesia and promote good drainage of lymphatic fluid. Try to perform deep breathing and relaxation exercises several times a day in the first week, or whenever you notice you are particularly tense.

  • A simple exercise to do on your own: While sitting, close your eyes and take 5-10 slow deep breaths. Relax your muscles. Slowly roll your head and shoulders.
  • Find more relaxation exercises on OncoLink.

This hand-out provides general information only. Please be sure to discuss the specifics of your surgical plan and recovery with your surgeon.



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