Treatment and their effects: Lumpectomy
This is the removal of the breast lump together with some surrounding tissue also known as a wide local excision. It removes the least amount of breast tissue, but leaves a small scar and sometimes a small dent in the breast. For most women, the appearance of the breast after a lumpectomy is good (see 'Body image'). The surgeon also usually removes lymph glands from under the arm to check whether any cancer cells have spread from the breast. This helps doctors decide whether other treatment is needed.
Sentinel lymph node biopsy is a way of checking just one or two of the lymph glands to see if they contain cancer. It involves injecting a tiny amount of radioactive liquid into the area of the cancer before the operation. The lymph nodes are then scanned to see which has taken up the radioactive liquid first. A blue dye is also injected into the area of the cancer during the operation. The dye stains the lymph nodes blue. The nodes that become blue or radioactive first are known as the sentinel nodes. The surgeon removes only the sentinel nodes so that they can be tested to see whether they contain cancer cells. Sentinel node biopsy reduces the chances of side effects such as arm stiffness and swelling (lymphoedema ) of the arm that can occur after sampling or clearance of the lymph nodes. It can also cause less pain and does not need a drain into the wound afterwards.
Most women who have a lumpectomy stay in hospital for a few days. Here women discuss their experiences of having a lumpectomy and the hospital environment.
Some women discussed the fears they had before having the operation. One woman prepared herself psychologically for the surgery, while another prepared herself physically by becoming as fit as possible.
Some women described parts of the surgery procedure, and most said they found the operation painless and straightforward. However, a few women had complications during or after surgery, such as infections. For one of these women, her hospital experience was exacerbated by language difficulties.
Some women found having the lymph nodes tested and waiting for results more worrying than the lumpectomy itself. Most said that test results were given by medical staff sensitively, though one woman was dissatisfied by the way news had been communicated.
Some woman had a lumpectomy followed by a partial reconstruction. One woman, who was diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy, had a lumpectomy three weeks after a caesarean.
One woman, who was interviewed 2 weeks after receiving her diagnosis of cancer, was awaiting surgery.
Some women praised the care they had received from doctors and nurses. One woman, however, was disappointed with her treatment and with hospital staff.
Many women discussed the post-operation check-ups they had, and several said they felt lost or unsupported when follow-up care ended. Women also talked about the friendships they had developed with other patients, which had often continued after leaving the hospital.
Last reviewed October 2012.
Last updated June 2012.