What is a lumpectomy?

Raquel Prati, MD
Surgical Oncology
To have a lumpectomy technically means that not only the area that has cancerous cells is being removed, but also a layer of grossly uninvolved tissue surrounding the cancer in all directions. The clear margins of the removed tumor need to be confirmed by microscopic examination by the pathologist. Lumpectomy is frequently used to treat isolated ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and invasive cancers that are small in relation to the size of the breast. This type of procedure is also, in more general terms, called breast conservation therapy. By definition, lumpectomy means the same as partial mastectomy or wide excision. When lumpectomy is the chosen surgery, with very few exceptions, radiation therapy is part of the breast treatment.
The treatment you and your healthcare professional choose for your breast cancer will depend upon many things. Treatment often includes surgical, radiation and medical therapy.

The most common surgical treatment for invasive cancer is lumpectomy with sentinel lymph node biopsy technique. Also known as excisional biopsy or wide excision, lumpectomy is a breast-conserving surgical procedure. It has become more common in the last 10 years as a means of treating early stage cancer. In fact, studies show that lumpectomy followed by radiation to the breast is just as effective as mastectomy in treating breast cancer.
Dede Bonner
Health Education

A lumpectomy removes only the breast lump (tumor) and a surrounding margin of normal tissue. If follow-up tests on the margins (edges) of the tissue indicate cancer cells, you may have another surgery known as a re-excision to remove more tissue.

A critical follow-up question when discussing your lumpectomy is to ask the surgeon, “How will the margins be evaluated?” Breast surgeon Dr. Shawna C. Willey explains, “Surgeons discuss this all the time. There’s not necessarily a right or wrong answer, but I think you can tell if the surgeon has put some thought into it. Margins have to be marked as the tissue is removed. Marking can be done in several ways, but the main point is that the margins must be oriented.”

Following a lumpectomy with radiation therapy is an extra protection against cancer spreading or recurring. If your oncologist also recommends chemotherapy for you after surgery, the radiation therapy may be delayed until chemotherapy is completed.

The 10 Best Questions for Surviving Breast Cancer: The Script You Need to Take Control of Your Health

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The 10 Best Questions for Surviving Breast Cancer: The Script You Need to Take Control of Your Health

A good mind knows the right answers...but a great mind knows the right questions. And never are the Best Questions more important than after a diagnosis of breast cancer. Drawing on cutting-edge...
Ajay K. Sahajpal, MD
Transplant Surgery
A lumpectomy is a surgical treatment option for breast cancer that removes the breast lump and surrounding area of normal tissue.  It usually also involves the removal of axillary lymph nodes.  This procdure is called breast conserving surgery as it preserves as much normal breast tissue as possible.  However, there is a risk that not all cancerous tissues may be removed, so radiation therapy is usually given after the procedure depending on the pathology.  
A lumpectomy is removal of a tumor with a rim of normal tissue. The specimen has to be oriented in the operating room. People use the term lumpectomy loosely; it technically refers to removal of cancers, but many people use the term when referring to removal of benign lesions as well.

A lumpectomy is a breast cancer operation in which the breast tumor is removed, along with a margin of normal tissue around it, but the rest of the breast stays in place. Other names for a lumpectomy include partial mastectomy, segmental mastectomy, or breast conservation. After a lumpectomy, radiation is usually recommended to decrease risk of local recurrence (or cancer coming back in the rest of the breast).

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.