Womens Health

Breast Cancer Awareness: Lumpectomy


What is a Lumpectomy?

Lumpectomy is a breast cancer treatment that involves the surgical removal of a breast lump or tumor as well as the surrounding tissue in order to increase the likelihood of fully removing all breast cancer tissue. This breast cancer surgery is then typically followed by radiation treatment.

A breast lumpectomy is also referred to as breast-conserving surgery (BCS), since, unlike a mastectomy, only part of the breast tissue is removed during treatment.

Lumpectomy is sometimes referred to as a partial mastectomy, and is the most commonly performed breast cancer surgery used today. The combination of surgery and radiation therapy ensures that the entire breast is treated. In the United States, breast lumpectomy is only recommended for women in the early breast cancer stages (I or II).


Preparation for Lumpectomy Surgery

Your doctor will discuss your medical history prior to lumpectomy surgery and will answer any questions or concerns that you may have. You will need to inform your doctor if you think you may be pregnant, have any allergies to medication or anesthesia, or are currently taking any medication (including aspirin or herbal supplements).

Patients should refrain from eating six to twelve hours prior to surgery, but may drink clear liquids including water, apple juice, or coffee and tea without any added milk, cream, or sugar. Talk to your doctor in advance to receive specific information about preparing for surgery.


The Breast Cancer Surgical Procedure

Breast cancer lumpectomy is usually performed on an outpatient basis, unless the patient is also receiving a lymph node removal for analysis, which is a fairly common procedure in such cases. A lumpectomy procedure may either be performed under local or regional anesthesia (epidural) or general anesthesia, the effects of which may not subside for several hours after surgery. For this reason, it is important to make appropriate arrangements regarding transportation home. Lumpectomy surgery typically lasts two hours.

A surgeon will make an incision and remove the breast tumor along with a one-centimeter margin of healthy breast tissue. A lymph node analysis will also be performed to determine if the cancer has spread to other regions. This may be done using an axillary lymph node dissection.

A more common lymph node analysis procedure is called a sentinel lymph node biopsy. The sentinel lymph node is believed to be an important indicator of the potential spread of cancer. This lymph node will be identified prior to surgical removal.

The healthy tissue margin will also be analyzed for cancerous tissue. If present, a sample of underarm lymph nodes will be taken for further analysis, and re-excision surgery for the removal of more cancerous tissue may follow.

Sutures or stitches will be used to close all surgical incisions, and will either dissolve on their own or be removed by a health care provider. Adhesive strips may be placed over the incisions which will loosen after a few weeks.


Recovery and Radiation After Lumpectomy

Radiation treatment of breast cancer will typically begin three to four weeks after surgery, once the patient has had time to heal. If a patient additionally receives chemotherapy, radiation treatment will begin once chemotherapy is completed.

Recovery time for lumpectomy surgery is typically several weeks. Breast cancer surgery can be emotionally draining, so planning a lighter schedule that includes naps is recommended. Some fatigue is to be expected, along with some tightness or numbness, especially under the arms. These symptoms are temporary and will fade as nerve cells regenerate.

Radiation treatment may be administered using an external beam (X-ray machine) or through radiation material in the form of small tubes implanted in the breast. In most cases, the combination of lumpectomy surgery and radiation treatment for breast cancer is believed to be as effective as a mastectomy. Your doctor can help you decide on which treatment that is best for you after your thorough a breast exam. You may want to read a general overview of some factors to consider when deciding if lumpectomy followed by radiation treatment is the best option for your case.


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