A mastectomy is surgery to remove the entire breast. Most of the time, some of the skin and the nipple are also removed. The surgery is most often done to treat breast cancer.
Before surgery begins, you will be given general anesthesia. This means you will be asleep and pain-free during surgery.
There are different types of mastectomies. Which one your surgeon performs depends on the type of breast problem you have.
The surgeon will make a cut in your breast and perform one of these operations:
- Subcutaneous mastectomy: The surgeon removes the entire breast, but leaves the nipple and areola (the colored circle around the nipple) in place.
- Total or simple mastectomy: The surgeon cuts breast tissue free from the skin and muscle and removes it. The nipple and the areola are also removed. The surgeon may do a biopsy of lymph nodes in the underarm area to see if the cancer has spread. In some instances, a simple mastectomy is performed on both breasts.
- Modified radical mastectomy: The surgeon removes the entire breast along with some of the lymph nodes underneath the arm.
- Radical mastectomy: The surgeon removes the skin over the breast, all of the lymph nodes underneath the arm, and the chest muscles. This surgery is rarely done.
- The skin is then closed with sutures (stitches).
One or two small plastic drains or tubes are usually left in your chest to remove extra fluid from where the breast tissue used to be.
A plastic surgeon may be able to reconstruct the breast during the same operation. You may also choose to have breast reconstruction with implants or natural tissue later. If you have reconstruction, a skin or nipple sparing mastectomy may be an option. With skin sparing, the nipple and areola are removed along with the breast, but only a small amount of skin is removed. Nipple sparing mastectomy is removal of the breast, but leaving all of the skin and the nipple and areola.
Mastectomy will take about 2 to 3 hours.
Why the Procedure is Performed
WOMAN DIAGNOSED WITH BREAST CANCER
The most common reason for a mastectomy is breast cancer.
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, talk to your doctor about your choices:
- Lumpectomy is when only the breast cancer and tissue around the cancer are removed. This is also called breast conservation therapy or partial mastectomy. Most of your breast will be left.
- Mastectomy is when all breast tissue is removed. Mastectomy is a better choice if the area of cancer is too large to remove without deforming the breast.
You and your doctor should consider:
- The size and location of your tumor
- How many tumors there are in the breast
- How much of the breast is affected
- The size of your breast
- Your age
- Family history
- Your general health and whether you have reached menopause
The choice of what is best for you can be difficult. You and the health care providers who are treating your breast cancer will decide together what is best.
WOMEN AT HIGH RISK FOR BREAST CANCER
Women who have a very high risk of developing breast cancer may choose to have a preventive (or prophylactic) mastectomy to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
You may be more likely to get breast cancer if one or more close family relatives has had the disease, especially at an early age. Genetic tests (such as BRCA1 or BRCA2) may help show that you have a high risk.
Prophylactic mastectomy should be done only after very careful thought and discussion with your doctor, a genetic counselor, your family, and loved ones.
Mastectomy greatly reduces the risk of breast cancer, but does not eliminate it.
Scabbing, blistering, or skin loss along the edge of the surgical cut may occur.
Risks when more invasive surgery, such as a radical mastectomy, is done are:
- Shoulder pain and stiffness. You may also feel pins and needles where the breast used to be and underneath the arm.
- Swelling of the arm (called lymphedema) on the same side as the breast that is removed. This swelling is not common, but it can be an ongoing problem.
- Damage to nerves that go to the muscles of the arm, back, and chest wall.
Before the Procedure
Always tell your doctor or nurse if:
- You could be pregnant
- You are taking any drugs or herbs or supplements you bought without a prescription
During the week before the surgery:
- Several days before your surgery, you may be asked to stop taking aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), vitamin E, clopidogrel (Plavix), warfarin (Coumadin), and any other drugs that make it hard for your blood to clot.
- Ask your doctor which drugs you should still take on the day of the surgery.
On the day of the surgery:
- Follow instructions from your doctor or nurse about eating or drinking before surgery.
- Take the drugs your doctor told you to take with a small sip of water.
Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to arrive at the hospital.
After the Procedure
Most women stay in the hospital for 1 - 3 days after a mastectomy. The time you stay will depend on the type of surgery you had. If you have a simple mastectomy, you might go home on the same day. You may be in the hospital longer if you have breast reconstruction.
Many women go home with drainage tubes still in their chest. The doctor will remove them later during an office visit. A nurse will teach you how to look after the drain, or you might be able to have a home care nurse help you.
You may have pain around the site of your cut after surgery. The pain is moderate after the first day and then goes away over a period of a few weeks. You will receive pain medicines before you are released from the hospital.
Fluid may collect in the area of your mastectomy after all the drains are removed. This is called a seroma. It usually goes away on its own, but it may need to be drained using a needle (aspiration).
Breast removal surgery; Subcutaneous mastectomy; Total mastectomy; Simple mastectomy; Modified radical mastectomy
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Breast cancer, v1.2014.National Comprehensive Cancer Network Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology
Hunt KK, Green MC, Buchholz TA. Diseases of the breast. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds.Sabiston Textbook of Surgery
Giuliano AE, Hunt KK, Ballman KV, Beitsch PD, Whitworth PW, Blumencranz PW, et al. Axillary dissection vs no axillary dissection in women with invasive breast cancer and sentinel node metastasis: a randomized clinical trial.JAMA
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Update Date 11/15/2013
Updated by: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, General Surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.