When only part of the breast is removed, it is called breast-conserving surgery. It is also known as a lumpectomy or wide local excision.
The surgeon removes the tumour and some of the healthy tissue around it, so that you can keep as much of your breast as possible. The operation will leave a scar, and may change the size and shape of the breast and the position of the nipple.
A pathologist looks at the tissue under a microscope to check for an area of healthy cells around the cancer – known as a clear margin.
The pathologist will also give information about:
- the size and grade of the cancer
- whether there are cancer cells near the edge (margin) of the removed breast tissue
- whether the cells are hormone receptor positive and/or HER2 positive or triple negative, unless this has already been reported on the core biopsy results
- whether the cancer has spread to any lymph nodes.
The pathology report will guide your doctors on what other treatment may be best for you. If there are cancer cells found close to the edge of the removed tissue (which is called an involved or positive margin), there is a higher risk of the cancer returning. You may need to have further surgery for more tissue to be removed (called a re-excision or wider excision). Your doctor may also suggest that you have a mastectomy.
After breast-conserving surgery, you’ll usually have radiation therapy to destroy any cancer cells that may be left in the breast or armpit.
For more on this, see our general section on Surgery.
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A/Prof Elisabeth Elder, Specialist Breast Surgeon, Westmead Breast Cancer Institute and The University of Sydney, NSW; Collette Butler, Clinical Nurse Consultant and McGrath Breast Care Nurse, Cancer Support Centre, Launceston, TAS; Tania Cercone, Consumer; Kate Cox, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Dr Marcus Dreosti, Radiation Oncologist and Medical Director, GenesisCare, SA; Dr Susan Fraser, Breast Physician, Cairns Hospital and Marlin Coast Surgery Cairns, QLD; Dr Hilda High, Genetic Oncologist, Sydney Cancer Genetics, NSW; Prof David W Kissane AC, Chair of Palliative Medicine Research, The University of Notre Dame Australia, and St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney, NSW; Prof Sherene Loi, Medical Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr W Kevin Patterson, Medical Oncologist, Adelaide Oncology and Haematology, SA; Angela Thomas, Consumer; Iwa Yeung, Physiotherapist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD.
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