Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Wide local excision

4-minute read

What is a wide local excision?

A wide local excision involves removing the cancer with a rim of breast tissue around the cancer. Your surgeon will tell you if your nipple needs to be removed. As well as removing your breast tissue, your surgeon may remove lymph nodes in your armpit to find out if there are any cancer cells in them.

What are the benefits of surgery?

Removing the cancer by surgery gives you the best chance of being free of early breast cancer. The breast tissue and lymph nodes that your surgeon removes will be examined under a microscope to help decide on any further treatment.

Are there any alternatives to a wide local excision?

You may want to consider a mastectomy (removing all your breast).

If you have invasive breast cancer, where the cancer has grown through the ducts to the surrounding breast tissue, there are other treatments available such as hormone therapy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and biological therapy.

What does the operation involve?

The operation is usually performed under a general anaesthetic but various anaesthetic techniques are possible. The operation usually takes about an hour.

Your surgeon will make a cut on your breast. They will remove the cancer with a rim of breast tissue around the cancer.

Your surgeon will usually remove any lymph nodes from your armpit through the same cut or through another cut closer to your armpit.

All your breast tissue and lymph nodes removed will be examined under a microscope. If there are cancer cells near the edge of the tissue that was removed, your surgeon may recommend another wide local excision or a mastectomy.

What complications can happen?

Some complications can be serious and can even cause death.

General complications of any operation

  • bleeding
  • infection of the surgical site (wound)
  • allergic reaction to the equipment, materials or medication
  • venous thromboembolism
  • chest infection

Specific complications of this operation

  • developing a lump under your wound caused by fluid collecting
  • developing a lump under your wound caused by blood collecting
  • dissatisfaction with breast appearance over time
  • stiff shoulder
  • numbness or continued pain around your armpit or the inner part of your arm
  • arm weakness or swelling of your arm and hand

Consequences of this procedure

  • pain
  • scarring of your skin, which may be unsightly

How soon will I recover?

You are expected to go home the same day.

You should be able to return to normal activities after 2 to 3 weeks.

Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the breast-care team or your GP for advice.

The breast tissue and lymph nodes that your surgeon removed will have been examined under a microscope. Your surgeon will tell you the results and discuss with you any treatment or follow-up you need. They will also check your wound and be able to tell you when you can return to work.


A wide local excision involves removing the cancer with a rim of breast tissue around the cancer. It usually involves removing some of the lymph nodes in your armpit, which helps your surgeon to decide on any further treatment.


The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you. Medical Illustration Copyright ©

For more on how this information was prepared, click here.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2023

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

After a diagnosis of breast cancer | Cancer Council

Learn more about coping with a diagnosis of breast cancer. Read our patient fact sheet on the diagnosis of cancer, treatment and support

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Breast Cancer Treatment - Targeting Cancer

Learn more about breast cancer and the treatments available.

Read more on Radiation Oncology Targeting Cancer website

Breast reconstruction and mastectomy - Better Health Channel

Some women choose to have breast reconstruction surgery to give a similar appearance to the look of their original breast in normal clothes.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Soft tissue sarcoma | Cancer Council

Learn about the symptoms, causes and treatment options for soft tissue sarcoma - a rare cancer that forms in the soft tissues of the body

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.