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Lumpectomy vs. Mastectomy

What You Need to Know

By , Caring.com senior editor
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Once a doctor determines that a breast tumor must be removed, one of the first decisions the person you're caring for will have to make -- with the help of her medical team -- is how much breast tissue to remove. In some cases, doctors will recommend removing the entire breast, known as a mastectomy.

But women with early-stage tumors that haven't spread may choose breast-conserving surgery. Research shows that for stage I and II tumors, the long-term outcome from lumpectomy plus radiation or from mastectomy is the same, so doctors are likely to say the choice is yours. There are two breast-conserving options: lumpectomy or partial mastectomy.

Lumpectomy

In a lumpectomy, the surgeon removes only the breast tumor and a small margin of surrounding tissue. The goal is to make sure the tumor comes out with "clean margins," which means that the biopsied tissue shows no cancer calls remaining. (If the pathology report does not show clean margins, a re-excision or mastectomy may be necessary.)

A lumpectomy is almost always followed by five to six weeks of radiation therapy to catch any stray cancer cells.

Chemotherapy may also be recommended following surgery; this is known as adjuvant chemotherapy. Nowadays, though, based on encouraging results from recent studies, oncologists and surgeons are increasingly likely to recommend neoadjuvant chemo, which means that chemotherapy is given first to shrink the tumor before removing it surgically.