Lumpectomy: Recovery

A lumpectomy is surgery to remove a breast cancer tumor or lump of breast tissue. It is also called breast-conserving surgery or partial mastectomy since it leaves most of the breast tissue untouched. It is often used when the lump is small and remains confined to the breast.

This technique often does not require a hospital stay. While less severe than removing the entire breast, however, lumpectomy is still a major procedure. Most people can return to normal routines within two weeks.

This article describes what to expect during a lumpectomy recovery, such as follow-up, recovery timeline, ways to cope, and wound care.

surgery recovery

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Surgery Follow-Up

The follow-up to your lumpectomy will depend on the details of your surgery and your overall condition. No two lumpectomy procedures are the same or require the same type of postsurgical care.

Following your surgeon's guidelines on follow-up care will reduce your postsurgical complications.

The follow-up to a lumpectomy includes:

  • Appointments: You can expect to have a follow-up appointment with your breast cancer surgeon or oncologist (specialist who diagnoses and treats cancer) one to two weeks after your surgery. At that time, you will hear about your pathology results from the tissue removed during your lumpectomy. Your healthcare provider will also discuss your post-surgery treatment plan. This may involve consultations with other specialists.
  • Re-incision: If your pathology report indicates that there were cancer cells in the margins (the rim of healthy tissue surrounding the tumor), your surgeon may advise that you have another procedure, called re-excision lumpectomy, to remove more breast tissue surrounding the lump taken during the first surgery. About 20% of lumpectomy patients require this additional surgery.
  • Radiation therapy: Your treatment plan will likely include radiation therapy after a lumpectomy to destroy any undetectable cancer cells that remain in the breast. Lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy is considered the standard of care for patients with early breast cancer. Research indicates that this combination results in survival rates comparable to radical mastectomy.
  • Other post-procedure therapies: If pregnancy or certain medical conditions disqualify you from receiving radiation therapy, other treatments may be advised. Depending on the stage (amount of cancer and whether the cancer has spread), location, and type of breast cancer you have, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER-2)-targeted therapy, and other oral or intravenous (IV) drug therapies may be advised after your breast has healed from surgery.
  • Breast reconstruction surgery: Depending on the amount and location of breast tissue removed, you may want to have breast reconstruction to restore the natural shape and appearance of your breast. Distortions after lumpectomy can involve a dent, bulge, or size difference from the healthy breast. If you're considering this option, you will have to consult with a plastic surgeon to determine your options. There are many ways to reconstruct a breast, including with implants or fat or tissue injections. In some cases, this procedure may be done during the initial lumpectomy.

Know the Signs of Lumpectomy Complications

Infection of your surgical wound can occur at any time during the healing process, which can take up to six weeks. Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you notice any of the following physical problems or signs of infection:

Recovery Timeline

Everyone's body recovers at different rates. Your age, general health, and lifestyle can affect the rate at which your body heals. Your recovery timeline is affected by these factors and many others, including the type of lumpectomy performed and the stage of cancer.

Following is the general recovery timeline for lumpectomy recovery:

Immediately after surgery: You will awaken in a recovery room and remain there until the anesthesia wears off. Your blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate will be monitored until your healthcare team decides that a responsible person can take you home. Most people go home within the same day of surgery. However, staying one or two nights in the hospital is not uncommon if your surgery was complex or included breast reconstruction.

The first two to three days after surgery: In the first days after surgery, your priority is to rest so you can regain the strength you need to heal and return to normal activities. During the first few days after surgery, you are likely to have:

  • Dressing over the incision to protect it
  • Some postsurgical pain, pinching, and numbness in your breast and underarm area (if lymph nodes were removed during surgery)
  • Prescriptions for pain and possibly an antibiotic
  • Instructions on how to shower 24–48 hours after surgery and protect the incision
  • Instructions for simple after-surgery arm exercises to prevent arm and shoulder stiffness on the side where the lumpectomy was performed
  • A schedule for checking and changing the incision's dressing to promote healing
  • Advice to avoid doing strenuous activities and heavy lifting, especially those that involve using the arm on the side of your lumpectomy
  • Recommendations regarding your return to work, depending on the type of work that you do
  • Instructions to wear a bra for support

Two weeks after surgery: Most people can resume normal activities two weeks after a lumpectomy. However, your body is still healing at this time. You may have the following:

Six to 12 weeks after surgery: If you are advised to have radiation therapy after a lumpectomy, this treatment usually begins between six and 12 weeks after your lumpectomy. This allows for complete healing of the incision and the affected area before radiation is used.

Depending on your age and disease characteristics, you may receive one of the following types of radiation therapy:

If you are having chemotherapy, radiation therapy is usually delayed until after this treatment is complete. Other treatments, like hormone therapy or HER2 targeted therapy, may be administered with radiation.

Three to four months after surgery: Most patients return for follow-up appointments, including blood tests and other tests, every three to four months during the first two to three years after cancer treatment. Follow-up appointments are usually advised once or twice annually after that time.

Coping with Recovery

Recovering from a lumpectomy involves both physical and emotional healing. You can support the optimal outcomes by allowing yourself the time and care necessary.

Coping with your physical recovery can require that you do the following:

  • Rest when you feel tired.
  • Take pain medication as directed.
  • Contact your healthcare provider if you notice signs of infection or slow healing.
  • Attend all follow-up office and testing appointments.
  • Follow all aspects of your treatment plan as prescribed.
  • Request help from others as needed.
  • Concentrate on eating a healthy diet to prevent constipation.

Coping with your emotional recovery can be more complex and extend well past your physical recovery. Feelings of depression, loneliness, anger, and anxiety are common no matter how good your disease outlook is.

Here are some ways to cope as you recover from a lumpectomy:

  • Ask your healthcare team about getting therapy from a counselor who specializes in cancer treatment.
  • Find an in-person or online breast cancer support group so you can share feelings and concerns with others who understand your situation firsthand.
  • Try active relaxation techniques like meditation or deep breathing to manage stress.
  • Don't minimize your feelings of sadness.
  • Consider sharing your diagnosis with family and friends who can provide the type of support you need.

Many resources can help you manage lifestyle issues related to your diagnosis and treatment. This may include childcare, care for your aging parents, and transportation. Ask your healthcare team for referrals to groups in your area.

Wound Care

Taking care of your wound after a lumpectomy usually isn't complicated. Before you go home, you will receive detailed instructions on how to care for your wounds. It's important to follow the specific, personalized instructions given to you. Make sure you and anyone assisting you fully understand the instructions.

Here are common instructions for wound care after a lumpectomy:

  • Examine the incision daily for redness, swelling, or drainage. Report these changes immediately to your healthcare provider.
  • If your incision is covered by Steri-Strips, leave them on for two weeks. You can usually remove them if they don't fall off on their own by that time.
  • Don't tug or pull at stitches. Allow them to dissolve on their own.
  • Wash your incision according to your surgeon's instructions. When you can expose it to water, use a gentle touch and pat it dry.
  • Sometimes, it's necessary to return home with a surgical drain in your breast area or armpit until the first follow-up visit. If this occurs, you will receive instructions on emptying the fluid from the detachable drain bulb a few times a day.


A lumpectomy—also called breast-conserving surgery or partial mastectomy—removes a lump or tumor in the breast. It is often used in the early stages of cancer when the tumor is confined to the breast and hasn't spread.

This technique is less extreme than taking the whole breast. It provides the same, if not better, chances of survival after treatment.

Healing and returning to normal routines take about two weeks. This can vary based on many factors like tumor stage, size, and the type of technique performed.

A Word From Verywell

A lumpectomy is regarded as a safe procedure with a low risk of complications. Recovering from this procedure is just one step in your breast cancer journey to return to good health.

Understanding how the procedure works and what to expect from recovery can help you manage expectations and prepare for your postsurgical needs. Having this perspective can help you achieve the physical and emotional strength you need to achieve the best outcomes from all aspects of your treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is radiation therapy necessary after a lumpectomy?

    Radiation therapy reduces the risk of cancer recurring or spreading outside the breast to the lymph nodes. Damaging undetectable cancer cells with radiation interferes with their ability to grow and multiply in the same breast where the lumpectomy was performed.

  • What are the most common complications that occur during recovery from a lumpectomy?

    A lumpectomy is considered safe and has few complications. When they occur, complications can include hematoma (bad bruising), infection, poor cosmetic results, and the need for re-excision to remove cancer cells left after surgery.

  • What type of radiation therapy is used after lumpectomy?

    External beam whole breast radiation is the most common type of radiation treatment used after a lumpectomy. This treatment uses a large machine to deliver cancer-killing rays to the entire affected breast. In some cases, this therapy may be followed by a radiation boost targeted at the tumor bed.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Cancer Society. Breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy).

  2. Lumpectomy.

  3. Litière S, Werutsky G, Fentiman IS, et al. Breast conserving therapy versus mastectomy for stage I-II breast cancer: 20 year follow-up of the EORTC 10801 phase 3 randomised trialLancet Oncol. 2012;13(4):412-419. doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(12)70042-6

  4. Boniface J de, Szulkin R, Johansson ALV. Survival after breast conservation vs mastectomy adjusted for comorbidity and socioeconomic status: a swedish national 6-year follow-up of 48 986 women. JAMA Surg. 2021;156(7):628-637. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2021.1438

  5. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. About your lumpectomy.

  6. What to expect with lumpectomy.

  7. National Cancer Institute. Follow-up medical care.

  8. Living Beyond Breast Cancer. Managing the emotional effects of breast cancer.

  9. American Cancer Society. Radiation for breast cancer.

By Anna Giorgi
Anna Zernone Giorgi is a writer who specializes in health and lifestyle topics. Her experience includes over 25 years of writing on health and wellness-related subjects for consumers and medical professionals, in addition to holding positions in healthcare communications.