The surgeon removes only the cancer and some of the normal looking tissue all around it (the margin). This is called a wide local excision (WLE).
In early breast cancer, having a WLE followed by radiotherapy is as effective as mastectomy. You’ll need to have radiotherapy after a WLE to make sure any remaining cancer cells are treated. If the cancer is very small, you may need a fine wire to mark the area so the surgeon can find it more easily. This is called wire localisation.
After a WLE, most women are pleased with the appearance of their breast.
Removing a larger area of breast tissue
Some women need to have a larger area of breast tissue removed (sometimes called a quadrantectomy).
Surgeons can use different techniques to help improve the appearance of your breast if you need a lot of tissue removed. They may reshape the breast by moving the breast tissue around and reducing it in size. This type of surgery is sometimes called therapeutic mammoplasty. They may suggest you have the other breast reduced at the same time or later so both breasts are the same size.
Occasionally, they take tissue from somewhere else in the body to help reshape the breast. This is usually if you have a small breast and it’s not possible to get a good appearance using mammoplasty.
We have more information about breast reconstruction for women having breast-conserving surgery and surgery to reshape the breast.
After breast-conserving surgery, the pathologist examines the tissue in the area (margin) around the cancer. If there are cancerous or pre-cancerous cells (DCIS) at the edges, you will need another operation to remove more tissue. Making sure the margins are clear reduces the risk of the cancer coming back in the breast. If your surgeon doesn’t think another operation is likely to be successful, they usually recommend a mastectomy.