Breast-conserving surgery for breast cancer

Breast-conserving surgery aims to remove the cancer safely, but keep as much of the breast tissue and breast shape as possible.

What is breast-conserving surgery?

Breast-conserving surgery removes the cancer while keeping as much of the breast tissue and shape as possible. The surgeon removes the cancer and some normal looking tissue around it (the margin). This is called a wide local excision (WLE). You might also hear it called a lumpectomy. After breast-conserving surgery, most women are pleased with the appearance of their breast.

If the cancer is very small, you may need to have a fine wire put into the breast before surgery. This marks the area to be removed and means the surgeon can find it more easily. This is called wire localisation. The wire is then removed along with the area of cancer during the operation.

Removing a larger area of breast tissue

Depending on the size of the cancer, you may need to have a larger area of breast tissue removed.

Surgeons can use different ways to help improve the appearance of your breast if you need a larger area of tissue removed. They may reshape the breast by moving the breast tissue around and making it smaller. Sometimes, they take tissue from somewhere else in the body to help reshape the breast.

Your surgeon may suggest you have the other breast made smaller so that both breasts are the same size. This can be done at the same time as surgery or later.

We have more information on breast reconstruction for women having breast-conserving surgery.

Radiotherapy after breast-conserving surgery

Your surgeon will usually advise you to have radiotherapy after breast-conserving surgery. Radiotherapy after a WLE reduces the risk of the cancer coming back in the breast.

Having breast-conserving surgery, followed by radiotherapy, is as effective at treating breast cancer as a mastectomy.

Clear margins

After breast-conserving surgery, the tissue that has been removed is looked at under a microscope by a pathologist. They check the area (margin) around the cancer. You will need another operation to remove more tissue if:

  • there is DCIS (the earliest possible form of breast cancer) close to the edge of the area
  • there are any cancer cells close to the edge of the area.

If the margins are clear, this will reduce the risk of cancer coming back in the breast.

If your surgeon does not think another breast-conserving operation is likely to be successful, they may recommend a mastectomy. In this situation, you will usually be offered breast reconstruction.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our breast cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at

    European Society for Medical Oncology. Primary breast cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of oncology 26 (supplement 5): v8–v30. 2015.

    Morrow M, et al. Chapter 79: malignant tumors of the breast. DeVita, Hellman and Rosenberg’s cancer: principals and practice of oncology (10th edition). Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. 2014.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Early and locally advanced breast cancer: diagnosis and management. July 2018.

    Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network. SIGN 134. Treatment of primary breast cancer: a national clinical guideline. September 2013.

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Rebecca Roylance, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 31 October 2018
Next review: 30 April 2021

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.

Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.