Partial Mastectomy: Purpose, Preparation, Recovery

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in women in the United States. In 2022, 287,000 women were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer (cancer that has spread) and over 51,000 were diagnosed with noninvasive, or localized, cancer (cancer that has not spread to other areas).

The most common treatment for breast cancer is surgery. A partial mastectomy, also referred to as breast-conserving surgery, is an option for many people diagnosed with noninvasive, localized breast cancer. The primary advantage of a partial mastectomy is that the surgery allows for the majority of noncancerous breast tissue to remain after removing the cancerous cells.

This article discusses what a partial mastectomy is, how to prepare for it, its risk factors, what to expect in recovery, and more.

Woman speaking with healthcare provider after her partial mastectomy.

B2M Productions / Getty Images

What Is a Partial Mastectomy?

A partial mastectomy, or breast-conserving surgery, is a surgery that removes cancerous cells or tissue in the breast and leaves the remaining breast tissue behind as a way to treat or prevent breast cancer. Alternatively, a single or double mastectomy removes all of the tissue in one or both breasts.

A partial mastectomy is usually a scheduled surgery. Beforehand, your healthcare provider will perform various tests, like a biopsy, to confirm the breast cancer is localized and determine if a partial mastectomy is the best surgical option. This also allows time for the person undergoing surgery to be as prepared as possible for the surgery and postsurgical recovery.

Inpatient or Outpatient Surgery

You can get a partial mastectomy at a hospital or outpatient surgery center. Partial mastectomies are considered an outpatient surgical procedure, which means an overnight stay in the hospital is usually unnecessary.

Various Surgery Techniques

There are various types of partial mastectomies. These include:

  • Lumpectomy: In this procedure, the surgeon removes cancerous cells and a small margin of surrounding tissue.
  • Skin-sparing: A skin-sparing partial mastectomy aims to preserve as much of the breast's skin while removing the breast tissue, nipple, and areola. With a skin-sparing partial mastectomy, surgeons use implants or tissue from other body parts to reconstruct the breast. Skin-sparing mastectomy has the advantage of less scar tissue and a more natural-looking breast after reconstruction.
  • Nipple-sparing. Nipple-sparing mastectomy is similar to skin-sparing mastectomy; it involves the removal of breast tissue while preserving the breast's skin and leaving the nipple and areola in place. Nipple-sparing mastectomy also leaves less scar tissue and a more natural-looking breast after reconstruction.


Partial mastectomy surgery might not be an option for all and depends on the location of the breast cancer and tumor size. Other reasons that a partial mastectomy might not be an option include:

  • There are multiple tumors in the breast.
  • A smaller breast has a larger tumor (which would affect the reconstruction result).
  • The tumor extends beyond the small margin of healthy tissue that would be removed.
  • The person having a partial mastectomy would not consider radiation therapy after surgery.

Potential Risks

Surgery itself presents risks for infection and bleeding. Other potential risks of partial mastectomy surgery may include:

  • Pain, tenderness, or a tugging or tight sensation in the breast
  • Swelling in the breast (which is usually temporary)
  • Scar tissue that may form hard spots or cause the skin to indent or dimple at the surgical sites
  • Changes to the shape of the breast
  • Burning or shooting pain (usually nerve pain) in the chest wall, armpit, and/or arm

How to Prepare

Establishing a strong relationship with your healthcare provider when considering partial mastectomy is crucial to ensuring the best outcomes for cancer removal and satisfaction with breast reconstruction.

Before a partial mastectomy, a biopsy is necessary to determine the type and stage of cancer. Other partial mastectomy surgery preparations usually include:

  • A complete medical history and physical examination
  • Imaging, such as bilateral mammography or ultrasound, if appropriate
  • A discussion between the surgeon and the person undergoing surgery to discuss risks, benefits, and possible complications

How to Find a Surgeon

When considering a partial mastectomy, the American Society of Breast Surgeons endorses surgeons who have completed a surgical residency program and are eligible for board certification by the American Board of Surgery or its equivalent.

What to Expect on the Day of Surgery

Depending on the type of partial mastectomy you're getting, as well as the surgeon and surgery facility's preferences and requirements, there are several things you should be aware of before heading into the day of surgery. These include:

  • When you should arrive at the surgery facility
  • How long before surgery you should stop eating or drinking
  • Which, if any, normal medications you can take the morning of surgery
  • Whether you should use a specific antibacterial scrub or soap the night before or morning of surgery
  • Whether there are any products you should avoid (e.g., lotions, deodorants, perfumes)


You can usually go home the same day you have partial mastectomy surgery. If the surgery is more extensive, an overnight stay in the hospital might prove necessary. Other considerations for recovery include understanding:

  • That you'll need a responsible adult to drive you home and help with any immediate post-surgical care needs
  • How to care for the surgery sites and surgical dressings
  • Signs and symptoms of infection or other postsurgical concerns
  • When and how to bathe or shower after surgery to protect the surgical sites
  • When you can safely use your arm on the surgical side again and what exercises can decrease arm stiffness
  • When you can safely wear a bra again
  • Restrictions on activity, such as limits on how much weight you can lift
  • When to take any prescribed medications, such as pain medicines
  • When to see your surgeon again for a post-surgery follow-up
  • What support and recovery resources are available online or in-person

Long-Term Care 

Even with the advances in partial mastectomy surgery, you should expect changes to the shape and feel of the breast and some scarring. Breast reconstruction surgery, which may even occur as part of partial mastectomy surgery, can help with the appearance of the breast.

Partial mastectomy surgery is often followed by radiation therapy. The coordination of care between the surgeon and radiation oncologist is essential to ensuring the radiation therapy is adequately planned for optimal treatment outcomes.


The majority of breast cancer is diagnosed when it is localized, or noninvasive, and still contained within the breast. Partial mastectomies, or breast-conserving surgeries, remove cancerous cells within the breast tissue but don't remove the entire breast. They are typically same-day surgeries with shorter recovery periods and can sometimes include breast reconstruction surgery during the mastectomy surgery.

As with all surgeries, there is potential for risks and complications, such as pain or swelling. Speak to your surgeon and healthcare provider beforehand about how to prepare, what to expect, and possible complications.

A Word From Verywell

Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis can be frightening, but there are effective treatment options. Speak to your healthcare provider about your options and ask about resources for additional support.

4 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. National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. Breast Cancer Facts.

  2. American College of Surgeons. Partial mastectomy.

  3. American Cancer Society. Breast conserving surgery.

  4. The American Society of Breast Surgeons. Performance and practice guidelines for breast conserving surgery/partial mastectomy.

By Pamela Assid, DNP, RN
Pamela Assid, DNP, RN, is a board-certified nursing specialist with over 25 years of expertise in emergency, pediatric, and leadership roles.