Your surgeon will explain how to prepare for your operation. For example, if you smoke, he or she may ask you to stop. This is because smoking increases your risk of getting a chest or wound infection, which can slow your recovery.
Breast lump removal is usually done under general anaesthesia, which means you will be asleep during the operation. Alternatively, you may be able to have the operation under local anaesthesia. This completely blocks pain from your breast and you will stay awake during the operation.
If you’re having a general anaesthetic, you will be asked to follow fasting instructions. This means not eating or drinking, typically for about six hours beforehand. However, it’s important to follow your surgeon’s advice.
Your surgeon will discuss with you what will happen before, during and after your procedure, and any pain you might have. This is your opportunity to understand what will happen. You can help yourself by preparing questions to ask about the risks, benefits and any alternatives to the procedure. This will help you to be informed, so you can give your consent for the procedure to go ahead. You will be asked to do this by signing a consent form.
If you have been diagnosed with a benign breast lump, your surgeon may suggest you wait and see if it goes away without any treatment. You may then need to have regular checks. It isn’t necessary to remove most benign breast lumps.
If you have been diagnosed with a cancerous breast lump, your treatment will be different. See our Breast cancer information for more details.
The operation generally takes around an hour depending on what technique your surgeon uses.
Your surgeon will make a small cut in your skin, over or near to the lump. He or she will then cut the lump away. Your surgeon may remove a small bit of normal tissue as well. Your surgeon will advise you if he or she needs to do this before you have your operation.
Your surgeon may close your cut with dissolvable stitches and may put tissue glue and/or a small dressing over the wound. He or she will send the tissue that formed the lump to a laboratory for testing. This will determine the type of cells and if these are benign or cancerous.
You may need to rest until the effects of the anaesthetic have passed. You may need pain relief to help with any discomfort as the anaesthetic wears off.
You will probably be able to go home the same day as you have your operation. You will need to arrange for someone to take you home. If you had a general anaesthetic, ask a friend or relative stay with you for the first 24 hours after your operation.
General anaesthesia temporarily affects your coordination and reasoning skills. Therefore, you must not drive, drink alcohol, operate machinery or sign legal documents for 24 hours afterwards. If you’re in any doubt about driving, contact your motor insurer so that you’re aware of their recommendations, and always follow your surgeon’s advice.
The length of time your dissolvable stitches will take to disappear depends on what type you have. However, for this procedure, they should usually disappear in about seven to 10 days.
Your nurse will give you advice about caring for your healing wounds before you go home. You may be given a date for a follow-up appointment.
It usually takes about one to two days to make a full recovery from a simple breast lump removal. Your wound will heal in around a month. However, this can vary so it’s important to follow your surgeon’s advice.
Most people are comfortable to go back to work after one to two days but you may wish to avoid contact sports for some weeks.
If you need pain relief, you can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.
As with every procedure, there are some risks associated with breast lump removal. We haven’t included the chance of these happening as they are specific to you and differ for every person. Ask your surgeon to explain how these risks apply to you.
Side-effects are the unwanted but mostly temporary effects you may get after having the procedure. For example, you may have:
- bruising and some swelling – this should improve as your wound heals
- scarring – you will have a scar but this should gradually fade
Complications are problems that occur during or after the operation. Complications of breast lump removal include:
- a wound infection
- an unevenness in the size and shape of your breast
- heavy bleeding from your wound
- a build-up of blood under the skin on your breast (called a haematoma)
Ask your surgeon for further information about the risks of breast lump removal.
I’ve been advised to have a wide local excision – what does this involve?
A wide local excision (or lumpectomy) is an operation to remove a cancerous lump in your breast and some of the tissue around it. Your surgeon will try to keep the appearance of your breast as similar as possible to how it was before.
If you have a cancerous lump in your breast, your doctor may advise you to have a wide local excision. This procedure is also called breast conserving surgery because it aims to leave as much healthy tissue as possible. This is compared with a mastectomy in which your entire breast is removed. A wide local excision is a treatment for a cancerous lump, not a benign breast lump.
Your surgeon will remove the cancer and also some healthy tissue from around it. This is to try to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back or of leaving any cancerous cells behind. Your surgeon may be able to reshape or reconstruct your breast during your operation.
The tissue your surgeon removes will be sent to a laboratory for testing. This is to check that there is an area of healthy cells around the cancer – known as a ‘clear margin’. If the results of this show that there are no cancer cells, you probably won’t need any further surgery. If the margin isn’t clear, you may need another operation.
Will having a breast lump removed affect my ability to breastfeed?
It’s possible that having a breast lump removed may affect your ability to breastfeed.
Any type of invasive breast surgery has the potential to damage ducts in your treated breast and this can affect your ability to produce breast milk. The impact surgery has on breastfeeding will depend on the size and location of your lump and the exact type of surgery you have. However, you should be able to breastfeed from your untreated breast without any difficulty.
For more information about breastfeeding after breast lump removal, speak to your surgeon.
Will my breast look different after breast lump removal?
Your breast should look almost normal after having a breast lump removed. You will have a scar from surgery but this will fade and become less noticeable over time.
You may notice a slight change in your breast after breast lump removal but it should be minimal. Most women don’t need to have breast reconstruction.
Your surgeon will do everything possible to make sure any change to your breast shape or scarring is as minimal as possible.
You will have a small scar after surgery. This usually fades gradually and becomes less noticeable. If you have dark skin, or fair, freckled skin, your scars may take longer to settle. Speak to your doctor if you have any concerns.
For more information about how your breast will look after you have had your surgery, talk to your surgeon or nurse.
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