When a patient has abnormal tissue in the breast, a breast excision may be recommended. Typically, a breast excision operation only removes a small portion of the breast cells, including all the abnormal cells. The procedure, also called a wide local excision or a lumpectomy, does not often result in a visibly altered breast appearance.
Unusual lumps or other areas of abnormal tissue in the breast require investigation by a doctor, as they can be signs of serious disease. The most dangerous possibility is that the lump is a collection of cancerous cells, which can be life-threatening. Often, however, a lump is a less serious problem, such as a cyst or a lump of fibrous tissue. A doctor generally investigates the lumps through physical examination, and if they could be serious, sends the patient for further investigations.
Biopsies are procedures where a doctor inserts a needle into the lump and removes some cells. These cells are then inspected under the microscope to see if they are cancerous or otherwise dangerous. If the lump looks like it may be cancerous, or may otherwise adversely affect the function, or the appearance of the breast, then the patient may undergo a breast excision, so a surgeon can cut the lump out.
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In the case of cancerous lumps, as well as the diseased cells, a breast excision operation generally removes an area of normal cells around the lump, so that the surgeon is sure all of the abnormal cells are removed. This may be sufficient treatment for a localized cancer that has not spread to other areas of the body. Sometimes, the surgeon removes some lymph nodes close to the breast as well, as these tend to be the first areas where breast cancer spreads.
Usually a breast excision operation is relatively quick, and the patient may not even need to have general anesthetic. The area of the breast that is removed can often be sewn back up without making an obvious difference to the appearance of the breast, apart from a small scar. Healing time is typically only a few weeks, but patients need to keep dressings clean and may have to have drainage tubes placed in the breast for a week or two. Mastectomies are related operations, but are used in cases where the tissue that needs to be excised is large, necessitating the removal of most or all of the breast.