Breast removal surgery; Subcutaneous mastectomy; Nipple sparing mastectomy; Total mastectomy; Skin sparing mastectomy; Simple mastectomy; Modified radical mastectomy; Breast cancer - mastectomy
A mastectomy is surgery to remove the breast tissue. Some of the skin and the nipple may also be 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. Most of the time, mastectomy is done to treat breast cancer. However, it is sometimes done to prevent cancer (prophylactic mastectomy).
The surgeon will make a cut in your breast and perform one of these operations:
One or two small plastic drains or tubes are very often left in your chest to remove extra fluid from where the breast tissue used to be.
A plastic surgeon may be able to begin reconstruction of the breast during the same operation. You may also choose to have breast reconstruction at a later time. If you have reconstruction, a skin- or nipple-sparing mastectomy may be an option.
Mastectomy will take about 2 to 3 hours.
WOMEN DIAGNOSED WITH BREAST CANCER
The most common reason for a mastectomy is breast cancer.
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, talk to your health care provider about your choices:
You and your provider should consider:
You and the providers who are treating your breast cancer will decide together which option is right for you.
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. However, even with a normal genetic test, you may still be at high risk for breast cancer, depending on other factors. It may be useful to meet with a genetic counselor to assess your level of 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 for breast cancer, but does not eliminate it.
You may decide to have a mastectomy based on your personal preference for a given condition. You and your doctor will discuss the pros and cons of this decision.
Scabbing, blistering, wound opening, seroma, or skin loss along the edge of the surgical cut or within the skin flaps may occur.
You may have blood and imaging tests (such as CT scan, bone scan, PET scan) after your provider finds breast cancer. This is done to determine if the cancer has spread outside of the breast and lymph nodes under the arm. These tests are not needed if you have early stage breast cancer.
Always tell your provider if:
During the week before the surgery:
On the day of the surgery:
You will be told when to arrive at the hospital. Be sure to arrive on time.
Most women stay in the hospital for 24 to 48 hours after a mastectomy, though some women may be able to go home the day of surgery. Your length of stay will depend on the type of surgery you had. Many women go home with drainage tubes still in their chest after mastectomy. The drains will be removed 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 worst in the first few days after surgery and then goes away over a period of several weeks. You will receive pain medicines during your hospital stay. Talk with your surgeon about medicines to take for pain after surgery.
Fluid may collect in the area of your mastectomy after all the drains are removed. This is called a seroma. It most often goes away on its own, but it may need to be drained using a needle (aspiration).
Most women recover well after mastectomy.
In addition to surgery, you may need other treatments for breast cancer. If hormonal therapy or chemotherapy are indicated, you will meet with a medical oncologist. If radiation therapy is recommended, you will meet with a radiation oncologist.
Davidson NE. Breast cancer and benign breast disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 188.
Henry NL, Shah PD, Haider I, Freer PE, Jagsi R, Sabel MS. Cancer of the breast. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Kastan MB, Doroshow JH, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 88.
Klimberg VS, Hunt KH. Diseases of the breast. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 35.
Macmillan RD. Mastectomy. In: Dixon JM, Barber MD, eds. Breast Surgery: A Companion to Specialist Surgical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:122-133.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network website. NCCN clinical practice guidelines in oncology: breast cancer. Version 4.2023. www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/breast.pdf. Updated March 23, 2023. Accessed April 10, 2023.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 3/11/2023
Reviewed By: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, General Surgery Practice Specializing in Breast Cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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