Breast Lump Removal

Overview & Description

During a breast lump removal, a worrisome lump or mass in the breast is taken out. It is then examined for signs of breast cancer.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?

The thought of finding a lump in the breast is frightening for most women. Anyone, male or female, young or old, can develop a breast lump. An individual who notices a new or changing lump in the breast, wall of the chest, or armpit should contact the healthcare provider. If the provider thinks the lump may not be normal, it should be checked for cancer.

It is not unusual to find breast lumps. Many men, women, and children have normal lumps and bumps that are not a problem. These can just be watched for changes if the individual and the healthcare provider agree that is the best approach.

Some lumps are merely fluid-filled cysts. When the fluid inside them is drained with a needle, the lump collapses. A biopsy is done on almost all lumps in women over the age of 20. A biopsy is generally done in those who have a family or personal history of breast cancer.

How is the procedure performed?

The procedure can be done several ways, depending on the type of lump.

If the lump is fluid-filled, a simple needle aspiration in the office is often all that is needed. The skin above the lump is cleansed and then numbed with a local anesthetic. The lump is pierced with a needle and the fluid is drawn off. Usually, this fluid is sent to a pathologist to examine for cancerous cells. In most cases the lump goes away in a few days after swelling caused by the procedure disappears.

If the lump is harder and feels more solid than a cyst, it is usually removed completely in an operating room or an office equipped for minor surgery. The person having the procedure can choose one type of anesthetic or a combination. A local anesthetic can be injected to numb the area of the operation. A general anesthetic puts the person to sleep.

While the person is still awake, the location of the lump is confirmed. Some surgeons mark the spot on the skin with a pen. Then general anesthesia is given or a local anesthetic is injected into the area. The skin above the lump is cleansed and the area is opened. The breast lump is separated from normal tissue and removed for the pathologist to examine. The incision is then closed with stitches or tapes. A dressing is put over the wound and the person is awakened.

Preparation & Expectations

What happens right after the procedure?

After the procedure, a woman is taken to the surgery recovery room. The woman is watched until the medications wear off. After this, women are usually allowed to go home. If a woman was put to sleep during the procedure, someone else must drive her home. Mild pain is normal after the procedure. It is usually be treated with over-the-counter pain medications.

The surgeon usually tells the individual how to care for the wound. If not, the person should ask the nurse before going home. The partner or friend who comes to take the person home should listen to the instructions too. Written instructions are very helpful.

Home Care and Complications

What happens later at home?

Women who only had local anesthesia can return to normal activities immediately. Women who had general anesthesia usually need about 24 hours to recover. Women should not drive during this time. The surgical staff will provide home care instructions. The incision site should be kept clean and dry. Severe bleeding or pus from the wound should be reported to the surgeon.

After the procedure, the breast will be tender for a few days. Putting ice bags on the area on the day of the operation and cutting back on activity will help. Women should wear a bra at all times, even when sleeping, to support the breast and reduce pain for the first 3 to 5 days. Pain medications should be taken as needed.

Biopsy results often take a few days to come back. The healthcare provider will discuss the results of the biopsy and what they mean. Most biopsies show normal or other noncancerous results. However, breast cancer is possible in some cases.

What are the potential complications after the procedure?

Any surgery can cause bleeding, infection, or allergic reaction to anesthesia. Some people have a bit of bleeding around the incision. If the dressing must be changed more than twice, the person should call the surgeon.

The surgeon tries to make the cavity left behind when the lump is removed as small as possible. That’s because the body does not tolerate empty spaces well. It tends to fill in the space, often with fluid or blood. The tissue around the space where the lump was removed may weep, filling the cavity with thin, watery fluid. This is usually absorbed by the body and is generally nothing to worry about.

The site becomes infected in less than 5% of cases. Infection is suspected if the breast becomes more tender after the third day following the biopsy, if there is redness or pus around the incision, or if a fever develops. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.

Article type: xmedgeneral