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What Is a Mastectomy?

A mastectomy is surgery to remove a breast. It is performed either to treat or to prevent breast cancer. Only high-risk patients have surgery to prevent cancer. Sometimes all or part of the auxiliary lymph glands (armpit) will also be extracted, but it depends which type of mastectomy one receives. There are several types: a simple/total mastectomy, a modified radical mastectomy, and a radical mastectomy. The modified radical mastectomy is the most common health care procedure designed to remove cancer, because it is as efficient as the radical mastectomy, yet less traumatic and disfiguring.

Who must Receive a Mastectomy?

For women with only one site of cancer in their breast, and a tumor under four centimeters that was removed with clear margins (no cancer cells in the tissue surrounding the tumor), lumpectomy followed by radiation is likely to be equally as effective as mastectomy. It is also an option for those who have cancer in more than one part of the breast. For some patients, a mastectomy can also provide peace of mind and doctors suggest it to patients if he or she feels they are at high risk of developing cancer in the future.

How Is a Mastectomy Performed?

Mastectomy is an alternative to breast conservation surgery. Which type of surgery is best for you is a complex decision. If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, discuss with your doctor the relevant issues for your circumstances thoroughly and in as much detail as you need. A modified radical mastectomy, however, removes the entire breast and also designated portions of the auxiliary lymph glands. A radical mastectomy removes the entire breast and all of the axillary lymph nodes in addition to the muscles beneath the breast and chest wall. DCIS present in a small area can be removed with a lumpectomy, but when spread throughout the entire breast, might require a mastectomy. When mastectomy is done for DCIS, it usually does not require removal of the lymph nodes under the arm.

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