Breast cancer is the most-common cancer among women worldwide, and over one-third of all cases diagnosed annually are nonpalpable at diagnosis. The increasingly widespread implementation of breast-screening programmes, combined with the use of advanced imaging modalities, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), will further increase the numbers of patients diagnosed with this disease. The current standard management for nonpalpable breast cancer is localized surgical excision combined with axillary staging, using sentinel-lymph-node biopsy in the clinically and radiologically normal axilla. Wire-guided localization (WGL) during mammography is a method that was developed over 40 years ago to enable lesion localization preoperatively; this technique became the standard of care in the absence of a better alternative. Over the past 20 years, however, other technologies have been developed as alternatives to WGL in order to overcome the technical and outcome-related limitations of this technique. This Review discusses the techniques available for the surgical management of nonpalpable breast cancer; we describe their advantages and disadvantages, and highlight future directions for the development of new technologies.