What is a mastectomy?
A mastectomy involves removing all of a person's breast tissue in an effort to eliminate or prevent cases of breast cancer. This tissue removal can include tissue on the chest, up to the collar bone, down to the rib cage, and into the underarm area. In some instances, the lymph nodes under the arm, the nipples, and the pectoral muscles may also be removed if the surgeon deems it necessary.
This procedure is performed under general anesthesia, so patients who undergo this surgery are completely asleep at the time of the procedure. The typical hospital stay following the procedure can range from 1-3 nights.
Basic recovery from the surgery can take several weeks, and longer if the patient opts for reconstructive surgery. During this time period the patient is usually prescribed pain killers and muscle relaxers to help with pain management. Individuals who undergo a mastectomy will also have surgical drains coming out of the area by the ribs for a few weeks to help drain fluid from the surgical area.
It generally takes several months for a person's body to completely adjust to the changes that have taken place after a mastectomy.
Why would someone need a mastectomy?
Mastectomies are typically performed on patients who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and have found a cancerous tumor in their breast tissue.
In some cases, mastectomies may also be performed as a preventative measure for "high risk" patients who have an increased risk of breast cancer due to genetic mutations like BRCA1 and BRCA2. In these cases, the surgery is referred to as a "prophylactic mastectomy".
What are the types of mastectomies?
When undergoing a mastectomy, there are a number of ways your surgeon might choose to tackle the task. Based on the aggressiveness of your cancer, the placement and size or the tumor, and a number of other factors, your surgeon will choose one of the following methods:
Total (simple) mastectomy: The entire breast, including the nipple and a large portion of the overlying skin, are removed. In most cases the lymph nodes and muscle tissues are not removed in this type of procedure.
Modified radical mastectomy: Similar to the total mastectomy, the entire breast is removed as well as the nipples, the overlying skin on the chest, and the lymph nodes under the arms.
Radical mastectomy: The entire breast is removed as well as the lymph nodes under the arm, the nipples, the overlying skin on the chest, and the pectoral muscles under the breast.
Skin-sparing mastectomy: The entire breast, nipple, and areola are removed but the skin on top the breast is left in-tact. This method is often use for patients who plan to have reconstruction done immediately following the mastectomy.
- Nipple-sparing mastectomy: The breast tissue is removed, but the nipple and skin on top the breast is left untouched. If cancer is found under the nipple, this type of mastectomy is no longer an option as the nipple must be removed when that is the case.