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The Difference Between a Lumpectomy and a Mastectomy

With more than a quarter of a million new cases each year, breast cancer is the most frequent cancer diagnosis in the United States. Statistically, this means one in eight American women — or about 13% of females — will develop the disease at some point in their lives. 

Breast cancer treatment plans vary depending on the type of cancer (cellular origin) and how far the disease has spread (stage). As varied as they can be, most treatment plans share one core strategy: tumor removal via breast surgery.

As a board-certified general surgeon who specializes in breast surgery, Johnny L. Serrano, DO, FACOS, performs breast-conserving lumpectomies and complete breast removal mastectomies on a routine basis. 

Let’s explore how these two key treatment methods differ, including what to consider if the circumstances of your diagnosis make both options viable.  

Treating breast cancer 

Breast cancer death rates have dropped by a third over the last three decades, partly due to increased awareness, better screening, and early detection, and partly because treatments and therapies continue to evolve, improve, and become more targeted. 

Breast cancer treatments are local or systemic. Local treatments (surgery, radiation) remove, destroy, or control cancer cells in the breast itself, while systemic treatments (chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy) destroy or control the cancer cells that have spread to other areas. 

Many women receive a combination of therapies to treat invasive breast cancer, and for most women, breast surgery is a central component of their cancer care plan. 

Breast surgery to remove cancer 

There are two main surgical approaches for removing breast cancer:


A lumpectomy removes the cancer cells (tumor) along with a small margin of surrounding cells for testing. Also called breast-conserving surgery (BCS) or a partial mastectomy, this technique targets the cancer while leaving most of the breast intact.      

A lumpectomy is typically followed by radiation therapy to reduce the risk of recurrence in the same breast or nearby lymph nodes. In some cases, Dr. Serrano may perform a targeted form of radiation called a MammoSite® insertion during a lumpectomy.  


A mastectomy removes the entire breast mound and often some of the surrounding tissues, too. During a total mastectomy, Dr. Serrano removes the entire breast as well as the nipple, areola, and skin. A modified radical mastectomy is basically a total mastectomy that includes the removal of underarm lymph nodes.

A mastectomy can also be done in such a way that it removes the entire breast mound while leaving the skin or nipple intact. When it’s done bilaterally to remove both breasts, it’s called a double mastectomy. 

Many women who have a mastectomy opt to restore the appearance of their breast through reconstruction surgery. Breast reconstruction can be done at the same time as a mastectomy or sometime later.    

Weighing breast surgery options

Many women who are diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer are given a choice between having a lumpectomy followed by radiation or having a mastectomy. 

The main benefit of having a lumpectomy is that it allows a woman to keep most of her breast. And for women who have a single small tumor (less than four centimeters) with clear margins, a lumpectomy followed by radiation is often just as effective as a mastectomy.  

Mastectomy surgery is often a better option for women with larger tumors (over five centimeters) or multiple tumor sites in the same breast. Women who prefer to reduce their risk of recurrence as much as possible may also opt for a mastectomy.  

Determining which breast surgery is right for you is a highly personal decision that’s difficult to make with confidence unless you’re well-informed. Ask questions, find out about the benefits and possible side effects of each option, and address your concerns before you choose. 

To learn more about the breast surgery options available at Precision Surgery and Advanced Vein Therapy in Glendale, Arizona, call 602-393-1304 or click online to schedule a visit with Dr. Serrano today. 

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