Lumpectomies are performed for two reasons: to remove a lump for biopsy or to remove a lump that has already been diagnosed as malignant through another procedure (like a needle biopsy). The reason for the lumpectomy, the total amount of tissue removed and the involvement of lymph nodes all play a role in recovery time.
A lumpectomy for diagnosis involves removing part or all of a lump. The surgeon may also decide to remove surrounding tissue. The mass and tissue are sent to a pathologist, who will determine if it is malignant (cancerous). If a lumpectomy is done because you have already been diagnosed with cancer, the surgeon will likely remove more surrounding tissue and possibly lymph nodes in the area to make sure the cancer has not spread.
General anesthesia is typically used so you are fully asleep during a lumpectomy. An overnight stay is not necessary unless there are additional health problems. If lymph nodes or a large amount of tissue are removed, a drain will be put in the chest to remove excess fluid. You will remain in the recovery room until the drain is set, bandages are checked and you are awake enough to go home. Pain medication will be given if necessary.
For the first few days after a lumpectomy, you will be sore. The amount of pain (and how long it lasts) depends on the individual and the extent of the surgery. Restrictions on activities will also be in correlation with the surgical procedure, but even diagnostic lumpectomy will leave you unable to drive or do heavy lifting for at least a few days. If lymph nodes were removed, this could extend to weeks.
For a breast cancer patient, lumpectomy recovery time isn’t over, as the surgery is usually followed by a course of radiation and possibly chemotherapy. When a lumpectomy is done for diagnosis of breast cancer, results take about a week. If the results come back benign (like a fibroadenoma or fibrocystic breast disease), no further treatment is necessary. If the mass comes back as malignant, you will meet with an oncologist to discuss further surgery and/or treatment.
Complications from lumpectomy are possible, but not common, and can extend recovery time. There is a possibility of allergic reaction with any anesthesia. Infection can best be avoided by keeping the area clean. Fluid buildup may occur, as well as lymphedema, a swelling of the arm. Any unusual symptoms–especially if accompanied by fever, redness or inflammation–should be reported to a health care professional immediately.