Breast-conserving surgery

Surgery to remove the breast cancer and some surrounding healthy tissue is called breast-conserving surgery. It is also called a lumpectomy or wide local excision. Breast-conserving surgery is recommended if the cancer is relatively small compared to the size of your breast. The surgeon removes the tumour and a rim of breast tissue, while leaving as much breast tissue as possible. This will leave a scar and may change the size and shape of the breast and the position of the nipple.

The removed tissue is sent to a laboratory. A specialist called a pathologist checks it under a microscope to see if there is an area of healthy cells around the cancer – this is known as a clear margin. The pathologist will create a report, which will include information about:

The report will help guide further treatment. If cancer cells are found at the edge of the removed tissue (an involved or positive margin), there is a greater chance of the cancer returning. You may need more tissue removed (re-excision or wider excision), or your doctor may recommend a mastectomy.

After breast-conserving surgery, most women have radiation therapy to the whole breast to destroy any undetected cancer cells that may be left in the breast or armpit, and to keep the cancer from coming back.

Occasionally, radiation therapy may not be required. Some women also need chemotherapy, targeted therapy or hormone therapy.

Oncoplastic breast-conserving surgery combines oncological surgery (to remove the cancer) with plastic surgery (to reshape the breast and try to preserve its appearance). It is performed by oncoplastic breast surgeons.

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This information was last reviewed in August 2018
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