Surgical Procedures: Lumpectomy

Author: Marisa Healy, BSN, RN
Last Reviewed:

Also called: Breast sparing surgery, partial mastectomy, breast-conserving therapy, BCT

What is a lumpectomy?

A lumpectomy is when a mass from the breast is removed, and not the whole breast. The mass, along with a small area of normal breast tissue around the mass is removed. The edge around what is removed is called the surgical margins. Your surgeon will try to remove enough tissue so that the margins do not have cancer in them. Having these “clean margins” lowers the risk of cancer growing back in that breast (recurrence).

Will I stay overnight?

No. This is often 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 needed to get clear margins.

What is recovery like?

Your care team will talk with you about your recovery. You will likely be up and moving the day after surgery. You will have to make some changes to your activity level for the first week or so. After surgery, you could have any of the following, which often get better with time:

  • Pain or feeling sensitive in the surgery area.
  • Breast swelling.
  • Bruising.
  • Lump or firmness at the surgical site.

How can I prevent infections?

Getting an infection after lumpectomy is not common. You can help prevent an infection by:

  • Taking a shower the night before surgery and washing your body with soap and water.
  • Do not let the incision site go underwater (soaking in a tub or swimming).
  • Always wash your hands before and after touching the incision or changing the dressing. 

What will I need at home?

  • A supportive, cotton bra or sports bra to wear the days and weeks after surgery. 
  • Gauze pads (4x4) to place inside your bra for comfort and to protect the breast (no need to use any tape). Gauze pads can be found at your supermarket or pharmacy.
  • Clean, supportive pillow(s) to put under your arm while sitting or to help with your position at night.
  • You may have constipation after surgery. Over-the-counter medications, adding fiber to your 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.

How do I take care of my incision?

If you have a bandage after surgery, your surgical team will give you instructions on when to remove it (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. Do not use 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 inside your body which will go away on their own. On the outside, your surgeon may use surgical glue, paper tape called "steri-strips," or nothing at all. Both glue and steri-strips can get wet in the shower.

How can I care for myself?

You may need a family member or friend to help you with your daily tasks until you are feeling better. It may take some time before your team tells you that it is ok to go back to your normal activity.

Be sure to take your prescribed medications as directed to prevent pain, infection and/or constipation. Call your team with any new or worsening symptoms.

There are ways to manage constipation after your surgery. You can change your diet, drink more fluids, and take over-the-counter medications. Talk with your care team before taking any medications for constipation. 

Taking deep breaths and resting can help manage pain, keep your lungs healthy after anesthesia, and promote good drainage of lymphatic fluid. Try to do deep breathing and relaxation exercises a few times a day in the first week, or when you notice you are extra tense.

  • Example of a relaxation exercise: While sitting, close your eyes and take 5-10 slow deep breaths. Relax your muscles. Slowly roll your head and shoulders.

This article contains general information. Please be sure to talk to your care team about your specific plan and recovery.

References

American Cancer Society. Breast-Conserving Surgery. 2019. Found at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/treatment/surgery-for-breast-cancer/breast-conserving-surgery-lumpectomy.html

MedLine Plus. Breast lump removal. 2018. Found at https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002918.htm

The American Society of Breast Surgeons. Performance and practice guidelines for breast-conserving surgery/partial mastectomy. Found at www.breastsurgeons.org/docs/statements/Performance-and-Practice-Guidelines-for-Breast-Conserving-Surgery-Partial-Mastectomy.pdf

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