Lumpectomy is surgery to remove a mass in the breast. The mass may or may not be cancer. It's also called breast-conserving surgery because much of your breast remains unchanged.

There will be one cut (incision) on your breast for the lumpectomy procedure. You may have a second incision in your arm pit if lymph nodes will be checked for cancer.

The mass that's removed will be sent to a lab for testing. If cancer is found, you'll likely need radiation treatment after your breast heals. This is done to help keep the cancer from coming back in the same breast.

Three-quarter view of female underarm area showing breast anatomy ghosted in. Incisions in underarm and on breast for lumpectomy.
You will have an incision near the tumor on the breast for the lumpectomy. You may also have a second incision under the arm, near the lymph nodes, for sentinel node biopsy or lymph node removal.

Before surgery

An exam and some routine tests will be done about a week before the surgery. These help your surgeon know that you're well enough to have surgery. Before surgery:

  • Sign any consent forms.

  • Tell your healthcare provider about any prescription or over-the-counter medicines, herbs, or supplements that you're taking. Tell your provider if you use marijuana or other substances.

  • Follow any directions you're given for not eating or drinking before your surgery.

  • Arrange for a trusted adult to drive you home after surgery.

  • Bring a soft shirt that buttons in front to wear home.

  • Talk with the anesthesia care provider. They'll explain how you'll be kept from feeling pain during surgery.

During surgery

Your surgeon will make an incision near the tumor. The tumor and an edge or margin of normal tissue will be removed. A second incision may also be made under the arm to remove some of the nearby axillary lymph nodes. These are checked to see if the cancer has spread to them.

When the surgery is finished, the incisions will be closed using stitches. A gauze dressing will cover the incisions. 

Right after surgery

You'll wake up in a recovery room. You may have an IV (intravenous) line for fluids and medicines. Pain medicines will be given to you as needed. A nurse will check your temperature, pulse, and blood pressure. You'll most likely go home the same day.

You'll be given instructions on how to care for the incisions, what kind of pain medicines you should use, and how to take care of yourself as you recover. Make sure you understand all the instructions and know when you need to next see your healthcare provider. 

When to call your healthcare provider

Talk to your healthcare provider about what problems to watch for. Call right away if you have any of the following:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as advised by your provider

  • Chills

  • Increased pain, warmth, drainage, swelling, or redness at the incision

  • Incision opens up or the edges pull apart

  • Cough or shortness of breath

  • Chest pain

  • Any unusual bleeding or bleeding that soaks the dressing

  • Trouble passing urine or changes in how your urine looks or smells

  • Pain, redness, swelling, or warmth in an arm or leg

  • Any other problems your provider told you to watch for and report

Know what problems to watch for and when you need to call your provider. Make sure you know what number to call anytime you have questions or problems, including after office hours, on weekends, and on holidays.

Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Cunningham RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Todd Campbell MD
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2021
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