What are the risks and potential complications of a lumpectomy?

As with all surgeries, a lumpectomy involves risks and possible complications. Complications may become serious and life threatening in some cases. Complications can develop during surgery or recovery.

General risks of surgery 

The general risks of surgery include: 

  • Anesthesia reaction, such as an allergic reaction and problems with breathing 
  • Bleeding, which can lead to shock
  • Blood clot, in particular a deep vein thrombosis that develops in the leg or pelvis. A blood clot can travel to your lungs, heart or brain and cause a pulmonary embolism, heart attack, or stroke.
  • Infection and septicemia, which is the spread of a local infection to the blood

Potential complications of a lumpectomy

Complications of a lumpectomy are uncommon but include:

  • Damage to nearby organs, such as the lymph nodes and lungs
  • Differences in breast sizes after a lump is removed
  • Numbness of the affected breast that may or may not go away
  • Opening or infection of the external incision

Reducing your risk of complications

You can reduce the risk of certain complications by following your treatment plan and:

  • Following activity, dietary and lifestyle restrictions and recommendations before surgery and during recovery. This includes physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other rehabilitation treatments.
  • Informing your doctor if you are nursing or there is any possibility of pregnancy
  • Notifying your doctor right away of any concerns, such as bleeding, fever, increase in pain, or wound redness, swelling or drainage 
  • Taking your medications exactly as directed
  • Telling all members of your care team if you have any allergies

How do I prepare for my lumpectomy?

You are an important member of your own healthcare team. The steps you take before surgery can improve your comfort and outcome.

You can prepare for a lumpectomy by:

  • Answering all questions about your medical history and medications you take. This includes prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, herbal treatments, and vitamins. It is a good idea to carry a current list of your medical conditions, medications, and allergies at all times.
  • Getting preoperative testing as directed. Testing will vary depending on your age, health, and specific procedure. Preoperative testing may include a mammogram, breast lump biopsy, chest X-ray, EKG (electrocardiogram), blood tests, and other tests as needed.
  • Losing excess weight before the surgery through a healthy diet and exercise plan
  • Not eating or drinking before surgery as directed. Your surgery may be cancelled if you eat or drink too close to the start of surgery because you can choke on stomach contents during anesthesia.
  • Stopping smoking as soon as possible. Even quitting for just a few days can be beneficial and help the healing process.
  • Taking or stopping medications exactly as directed. This may include not taking aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and blood thinners.

Questions to ask your doctor

Facing surgery can be stressful. It is common for patients to forget some of their questions during a doctor’s office visit. You may also think of other questions after your appointment. Contact your doctor with concerns and questions before surgery  and between appointments. 

It is also a good idea to bring a list of questions to your appointments. Questions can include:

  • Why do I need a lumpectomy? Are there any other options for treating my condition?
  • How much of my breast will be removed? What will my breast look like after surgery?
  • How long will the procedure take? When can I go home?
  • What restrictions will I have after the surgery? When can I return to work and other activities?
  • What assistance will I need at home?
  • Will I need physical therapy or rehabilitation?
  • How do I take my medications? 
  • How will you treat my pain?
  • When and how will I receive the results of my lymph node biopsy test?
  • What other treatment will I need?
  • When should I follow up with you?
  • How should I contact you? Ask for numbers to call during and after regular hours.
What can I expect after my lumpectomy?