Breast cancer surgeon, Deborah Capko, speaking with patient at MSK Basking Ridge.

MSK's breast surgeons offer consultations in Manhattan and at our outpatient locations in New Jersey and Westchester County and on Long Island. Shown here: Breast surgeon Deborah Capko, who cares for women at MSK Basking Ridge.

What Is a Lumpectomy?

Lumpectomy is a surgery to remove cancerous breast tissue along with a rim of normal tissue surrounding it called a surgical margin. The procedure preserves the rest of the breast as well as sensation in the breast. Your doctor may also refer to it as a wide local excision, segmental resection, or partial mastectomy. Memorial Sloan Kettering breast cancer surgeons have been leaders in the development of national guidelines for the use of lumpectomy.

If you have invasive breast cancer and are younger than 70 years of age, a lumpectomy is always followed by radiation treatments to the breast.

At Memorial Sloan Kettering, our breast surgeons perform lumpectomy as an outpatient surgical procedure, meaning that you can return home on the same day as your procedure. We offer lumpectomies in New Jersey at MSK Monmouth, as well as at our state-of-the-art Josie Robertson Surgery Center in Manhattan.

Other treatments you may need, including radiation therapy, are available at our many convenient locations in New Jersey, Long Island, and Westchester, as well as in New York City.

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Here you will find more in-depth information on lumpectomy, along with answers to some common questions.

Who is a candidate for a lumpectomy?

Lumpectomy is typically recommended for women with newly diagnosed, early-stage breast cancers such as:

  • stage I breast cancer
  • stage II breast cancer
  • DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ)

There are a few other factors that determine whether you are a good candidate:

  • your tumor is small relative to your breast size
  • your tumor is in one area of your breast
  • you’re able to receive radiation treatments after lumpectomy

For women with larger tumors, MSK’s breast cancer team also offers several approaches that can make lumpectomy possible.

  • MSK’s medical oncologists can sometimes use chemotherapy to shrink the tumor first. This is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
  • In addition, our plastic surgeons may be able to perform partial breast reconstruction, also known as oncoplastic surgery, during your lumpectomy. When possible, this approach allows us to achieve a good cosmetic outcome for you without the need for a mastectomy.

Are lymph nodes removed during a lumpectomy?

Women with invasive breast cancer typically have one or more lymph nodes taken from the underarm area during a lumpectomy. These nodes, called the sentinel nodes, are the first lymph nodes to which cancer cells would travel if they were to leave the breast. This is done so that your doctor can check to see if the cancer has spread.

Women with DCIS undergoing lumpectomy do not need to have lymph nodes removed.

What is radioactive seed localization?

Radioactive seed localization is a technique used to locate and remove small breast cancers that are detected on a mammogram or ultrasound but cannot be felt by your surgeon during a breast exam.

The procedure can take place up to a week before your lumpectomy. A radiologist places a tiny radioactive seed, about the size of a grain of rice, in your breast to mark the exact location of the cancer. The implanted seed contains a small amount of radiation, which helps your surgeon find the cancer at the time of your surgery using a handheld radiation-detection device.

The seed is removed by your surgeon during your lumpectomy.

What is a re-excision lumpectomy?

A re-excision lumpectomy refers to the second surgery some women have when their pathology results come back positive for cancer cells in the margins (the healthy tissue around the tumor that is removed during a lumpectomy).

Re-excision means the surgeon reopens the surgical site to remove an additional margin of tissue, with the goal of getting a margin that is cancer-free. Sometimes this practice is called “clearing the margins.”

At MSK, our surgeons have been leaders in developing guidelines to spare women from this second surgery in cases where it is not needed.

What is lumpectomy recovery like?

Recovery from a lumpectomy is different for every woman. Healing time after surgery can range anywhere from a few days to a week.

  • After a lumpectomy without a lymph node biopsy, you’re likely to feel well enough to return to work after two or three days. You can usually resume normal physical activities, like going to the gym, after one week.
  • After a lumpectomy with a lymph node biopsy, you may need to take up to a week off from work to recover.

As you are healing, you may feel several different sensations in your breast. Some common examples include tenderness, numbness, and twinges. These sensations usually come and go, and will lessen over time, usually within the first few months after surgery. As you continue to heal, you may feel scar tissue along your incision site. It will feel hard. This is common and should soften over the next several months.

Learn more about what to expect before, during, and after lumpectomy with no lymph node biopsy and lumpectomy with lymph node biopsy.

Will I need a surgical drain after lumpectomy?

A surgical drain is a rubber drainage tube inserted during surgery to collect excess fluid that accumulates in the area where the tumor was removed. The drain is connected to a plastic bulb that can suction up the fluid.

At MSK, we do not leave in surgical drains after a lumpectomy or after a lumpectomy with lymph node biopsy.

How will a lumpectomy change the appearance of my breast?

In many cases, lumpectomy causes very little scarring or changes to the breast. If the surgery is more involved, there are several ways to enhance the appearance of the breast. Options include a breast lift, breast reduction surgery, tissue rearrangement, and, in some cases, cosmetic plastic surgery on the other breast to make them look the same.

Do I need additional treatment after a lumpectomy?

Cancer doctors typically recommend that women under 70 who opt for a lumpectomy also receive radiation therapy to the affected breast. This is to kill any stray breast cancer cells that remain after surgery and to prevent the cancer from coming back. This approach, also known as breast conservation therapy, has been show to be equally as effective at treating early-stage breast cancer as mastectomy.

MSK’s radiation therapy teams are highly experienced in caring for women with breast cancer. We are one of just a few centers with a dedicated and specialized radiation team focused solely on treating breast cancer.

Learn more about our approach to radiation therapy for breast cancer.

Many women also benefit from drug therapies such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or hormone therapy. The goal of all of these treatments is to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurring (coming back) or metastasizing (spreading).

Your doctor’s recommendations for drug therapy are based on the molecular characteristics of your breast cancer.

Learn more about drug therapies for breast cancer.

What support does MSK offer to women recovering from a lumpectomy?

MSK’s quality-of-life specialists provide comprehensive follow-up care to help you recover from a lumpectomy. Many services are available at our New Jersey, Long Island, and Westchester County locations as well as at our Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center in Manhattan.

  • Wellness therapies from integrative medicine specialists can relieve emotional or physical symptoms after surgery or for potential side effects.
  • Rehabilitation and exercise therapies can help you heal and recover your strength, flexibility, and stamina.
  • Find emotional support through our Counseling Center, online support groups, or patient-to-patient support program, which connects you with other breast cancer survivors who understand your challenges and concerns. Our social workers are available across our treatment locations to provide emotional support and guidance. They can also help with some of the practical aspects of having cancer, such as transportation assistance and the impact on your job.