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What is the Difference Between a Lumpectomy and Mastectomy?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2019
    Conjecture Corporation
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A lumpectomy and mastectomy are both performed for the same purpose, which is to treat a breast tumor. A lumpectomy, however, only removes the tumor and leaves most of the surrounding tissue intact. With a mastectomy, on the other hand, a surgeon removes the tumor along with the patient's entire breast. In many cases, lumpectomies are options for patients who are in the earlier stages of breast cancer, have non-cancerous tumors, or have less risk that the cancer will return. Mastectomies may be the option doctors recommend when a person is in a later stage of cancer, has a large cancerous tumor, or has cancer that is likely to return.

When comparing a lumpectomy and mastectomy, doctors often refer to lumpectomies as breast-preserving procedures. This is due to the fact that removing just the lump and as little of the surrounding tissue as possible leaves the breast mostly intact. Sometimes the nearby lymph nodes are removed as well. A mastectomy, on the other hand, results in a much more pronounced physical change. When a surgeon performs a mastectomy, he removes a patient’s entire breast, which may, in come cases, include the skin of the breast, the nipple, and the chest wall.

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In many cases, people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a choice when it comes to choosing between a lumpectomy and mastectomy. Often, a cancerous tumor is simply too large to allow for removal via a lumpectomy. In other cases, a lumpectomy may not be an option because the lump is in a difficult location or because the cancer has begun to spread. Sometimes surgeons may advise against a lumpectomy because the patient is at an increased risk of having the cancer return.

Though mastectomies result in the removal of a patient’s breast and may include the removal of surrounding tissue and nearby lymph nodes, some patients opt for this choice, even when their doctors offer lumpectomies instead. Patients may choose this option in an effort to prevent cancer from returning and in the hopes of being certain it is eradicated after surgery. In some cases, removal of the entire breast affords the patient greater peace of mind. Unfortunately, there are many cases in which a patient does not have the opportunity to choose between a lumpectomy and mastectomy because of the severity of her condition. Surgeons can provide breast reconstruction to restore the appearance of the breast area, however.

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