Breast Removal (Mastectomy)

Breast removal—or mastectomy—is a surgical procedure involving the removal, either partially or fully, of one or both breasts. It is usually performed on women who have contracted breast cancer, and involves removing the breast tissue that contains cancerous cells.

Breast removal is just one of many treatment methods for breast cancer. Other options include radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy.

There is a whole spectrum of mastectomy methods. The type of cancer and the level of cancer growth in the breast tissue will determine which method your surgeon chooses.

  • In a partial mastectomy, better known as a lumpectomy, only the cancerous lump is removed from the breast, with a small amount of the surrounding breast tissue. Chest muscles and underarm lymph nodes are not removed. Usually, radiotherapy treatment is necessary after a partial mastectomy.
  • In a radical mastectomy the breast, underarm lymph nodes and chest muscles, also known as the major and minor pectoral muscles, are removed, leaving a large hollow under the collarbone. Radical mastectomy was once the standard treatment for all breast cancer.
  • In a modified radical mastectomy the breast is removed, as are the minor pectoral muscles and all lymph nodes. The major pectoral muscle is left intact.
  • In a simple or total mastectomy the entire breast, including the breast tissue, nipples and areola, is removed. Chest muscles and lymph nodes are not removed.

When both breasts are removed, the procedure is referred to as a double mastectomy.

Most mastectomies require breast reconstruction, which can be performed at the same time. Depending on the amount of breast tissue taken, a lumpectomy usually doesn’t require a reconstruction. Patients may choose immediate reconstruction, or they may choose to have it later. Research shows no difference in aesthetic or medical outcomes between immediate or delayed mastectomies, and both are equally safe. If the cancer is in it’s later stages, immediate breast reconstruction may not be possible.

For those who prefer not to undergo breast reconstruction, or decide to do it later, there are artificial breasts, called prosthetics that can be worn inside a bra or camisole. Usually a soft temporary prosthetic will be supplied by the hospital to wear until the wound area is healed. At that point a permanent implant can be surgically inserted.

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