Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

brand logo

Am Fam Physician. 2002;66(12):2281

What is breast-conserving surgery?

Breast-conserving surgery is a treatment for breast cancer. Lumpectomy is considered a breast-conserving surgery because only the lump (the part of the breast that has cancer) and part of the breast tissue around the lump are removed. Another surgery for breast cancer is called mastectomy. Mastectomy removes most, or all, of the breast. Mastectomy is not a breast-conserving surgery.

Women who have a lumpectomy usually have radiation treatment, too. The radiation treatment helps kill any cancer cells that have spread from the lump to nearby tissue. The lymph nodes under the arm are usually checked to see if the cancer has spread. This is done during a procedure called sentinel node biopsy.

How does my doctor know if my lump is cancer?

Your doctor will do a biopsy to see if your lump is cancer. During a biopsy, your doctor removes a tiny bit of tissue from the lump with a needle and looks at it under a microscope. If the lump is small and cannot be felt, your doctor may use a mammogram or ultrasound scan to find the lump and insert the needle. Your doctor will give you medicine to numb your breast so that you cannot feel much pain.

Why does my doctor check my lymph nodes?

If cancer from the tumor has spread to the lymph nodes, you may be at an increased risk of having cancer in other parts of your body. A small number of lymph nodes are checked for cancer during the sentinel node biopsy. A blue dye, or another material that can be traced over the skin, is put into your lymph nodes. The dye or the material helps identify the nodes that the cancer might have spread to. If these nodes do not have cancer, you will most likely not have to have any more surgery after your lumpectomy. However, if they do have cancer, all of the lymph nodes may be removed.

What if I cannot have breast-conserving surgery?

Some women cannot have breast-conserving surgery and instead have a mastectomy. After a mastectomy, the breast can be reconstructed. A breast implant can be used, as can a woman's own tissues from other parts of her body. If your breasts cannot be saved during surgery and must be removed, you will need to consider how you will feel about yourself and your body. This will help you decide if you want to have breast reconstructive surgery. If you are married or have a partner, it may be helpful to get his or her opinion, too.

Where can I find more information?

Your doctor.

  • American Cancer Society

  • Telephone: 1-800-ACS-2345 (227-2345)


Continue Reading

More in AFP

More in PubMed

Copyright © 2002 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP.  See permissions for copyright questions and/or permission requests.