Breast Excision vs. Mastectomy: Margins Matter

It can mean the difference between reporting 19120 and 19301.

When deciding between 19120 Excision of cyst, fibroadenoma, or other benign or malignant tumor, aberrant breast tissue, duct lesion, nipple or areolar lesion (except 19300), open, male or female, 1 or more lesions and 19301 Mastectomy, partial (eg, lumpectomy, tylectomy, quadrantectomy, segmentectomy), search the documentation to determine whether a margin of healthy tissue was removed, along with the breast mass.

If the surgeon removes only the mass, with little or no margin, look first to 19120. Report one unit of 19120, per incision (not per mass removed). CPT® Assistant (March 2005) instructs:

…code 19120 should be reported for each of the separate excised areas since it includes one or more lesions through the same incision. However, if excisions are performed on different areas of the breast through separate incision sites, code 19120 should be reported for each incised area. Modifier 59 [Distinct Procedural Service] should be appended to the second procedure code.

You may report 19120 for breast excision performed on either male or female patients. Note, however, “19120 does not include more extensive resections of breast tissue. More extensive resection performed for gynecomastia [benign enlargement of breast tissue] should be reported with code 19300 [Mastectomy for gynecomastia]” (CPT® Assistant, March 2014). You should claim 19300 only for male patients, “as gynecomastia is a male condition” (CPT® Assistant, February 2007).

When the surgeon removes a breast lesion with a margin of healthy tissue, look instead to 19301. CPT® Assistant (February 2007) instructs:

Partial mastectomy procedures describe open excisions of breast tissue and include specific attention to adequate surgical margins surrounding the breast mass or lesion. In a partial mastectomy, a larger amount of breast tissue and some skin are removed with the tumor. This also includes removal of the lining over chest muscles below the tumor. This surgery is usually performed for stage 1 and 2 tumors. This code is reported also for the performance of a lumpectomy where the tumor and a small amount of surrounding tissue are removed.

In these cases, the mass is suspected or known to be malignant, and the margin of healthy tissue is removed to ensure that the entire malignancy has been excised.

Sometimes, the surgeon may excise a breast mass (19120), but pathology reveals malignancy and the surgeon must return the patient to the operating room and remove additional tissue. When this occurs, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rules (National Correct Coding Initiative Policy Manual for Medicare Services, Chapter III, Section J.1) allow you to report the follow-up excision using the partial mastectomy code, 19301, with modifier 58 Staged or related procedure or service by the same physician or other qualified health care professional during the postoperative period appended.

G.J. Verhovshek, MA, CPC, is managing editor at AAPC.

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Renee Dustman

Renee Dustman

Renee Dustman is executive editor at AAPC. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism and a long history of writing just about anything for just about every kind of publication there is or ever has been. She’s also worked in production management for print media, and continues to dabble in graphic design.
Renee Dustman

About Has 423 Posts

Renee Dustman is executive editor at AAPC. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism and a long history of writing just about anything for just about every kind of publication there is or ever has been. She’s also worked in production management for print media, and continues to dabble in graphic design.

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