What is a lumpectomy?

A lumpectomy is the surgical removal of a cancerous or noncancerous breast tumor. A lumpectomy also includes removing a small amount of normal breast tissue around a cancerous tumor. Other names for lumpectomy include partial mastectomy, breast-conserving surgery, breast-sparing surgery, and wide excision. Doctors most commonly use a lumpectomy to treat small, early-stage breast cancer tumors in women.  

Your surgeon might also remove lymph nodes to test whether cancer has spread. A lumpectomy conserves most of the breast tissue and generally keeps the shape and appearance of the breast. In contrast, a mastectomy is the removal of the entire breast. 

A lumpectomy for breast cancer is combined with radiation treatment. Hormone treatment and/or chemotherapy may also be recommended.  

A lumpectomy is a common but major surgery with significant risks and potential complications. You may have more effective treatment options for your type and stage of breast cancer. You may also have less invasive treatment options for noncancerous tumors. Consider getting a second opinion about your treatment choices before having a lumpectomy. 

Why is a lumpectomy performed?

Your doctor may recommend a lumpectomy to treat breast cancer or to remove a benign (noncancerous) tumor of the breast (fibroadenoma). Your doctor may only consider a lumpectomy if other treatment options that involve less risk of complications have been ineffective. Ask your doctor about all of your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion before deciding on a lumpectomy.

Who performs a lumpectomy?

A general surgeon performs a lumpectomy. A general surgeon specializes in the surgical treatment of a wide variety of diseases, disorders and conditions. Some general surgeons specialize in the treatment of patients with breast disease; they may use the term breast surgeon.

How is a lumpectomy performed?

Your lumpectomy will be performed in a hospital. Your surgeon will make an incision in the breast and remove the lump. If the tumor is cancerous, your surgeon will also remove some normal breast tissue around the tumor and sample (biopsy) the nearby lymph nodes in your armpit for signs of cancer. 

Your surgeon will advise you on which procedure is best for you and how long you need to stay in the hospital based on your diagnosis, age, medical history, general health, and possibly your personal preference. Learn about the different lumpectomy procedures and ask why your surgeon will use a particular type for you.

Types of anesthesia that may be used

Your doctor will perform a lumpectomy using either general anesthesia or regional anesthesia. : 

  • General anesthesia is a combination of intravenous (IV) medications and gases that put you in a deep sleep. You are unaware of the procedure and will not feel any pain. You may also have a peripheral nerve block infusion in addition to general anesthesia. A peripheral nerve block infusion is an injection or continuous drip of liquid anesthetic. The anesthetic flows through a tiny tube inserted near your surgical site to control pain during and after surgery.
  • Regional anesthesia is also known as a nerve block. It involves injecting an anesthetic around certain nerves to numb a large area of the body. To numb a smaller area, your doctor injects the anesthetic in the skin and tissues around the procedure area (local anesthesia). You will likely have sedation with regional anesthesia to keep you relaxed and comfortable. 

What to expect the day of your lumpectomy

The day of your surgery, you can expect to:

  • Talk with a preoperative nurse. The nurse will perform an exam and ensure that all needed tests are in order. The nurse can also answer questions and will make sure you understand and sign the surgical consent form..
  • Remove all clothing and jewelry and dress in a hospital gown. It is a good idea to leave all jewelry and valuables at home or with a family member. Your care team will give you blankets for modesty and warmth.
  • Talk with the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist about your medical history and the type of anesthesia you will have.
  • A surgical team member will start an IV. 
  • For general anesthesia, the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will start your anesthesia. Your surgeon may perform local anesthesia. 
  • A tube may be placed in your windpipe to protect and control breathing during general anesthesia. You will not feel or remember this or the surgery as they happen.
  • The surgical team will monitor your vital signs and other critical body functions. This occurs throughout the procedure and your recovery until you are alert, breathing effectively, and your vital signs are stable.