What is a mastectomy?
Mastectomy is the removal of the breast. There are five types of mastectomy.
- Simple or total mastectomy
During a total mastectomy, the breast tissue is removed. The lymph nodes and chest muscles, however, are kept in place. Your doctor is likely to recommend a total mastectomy procedure if cancer threatens to spread to other parts of the body. Often, the only way to ensure that the disease is properly eradicated is to remove the entire breast.
- Modified radical mastectomy
A modified radical mastectomy is the removal of the entire breast and most of the lymph nodes under the arm.
- Radical mastectomy
During a radical mastectomy, all of the breast tissue is removed, including the nipple, lymph nodes, and chest muscles. This type of mastectomy is not as common as it used to be, as a modified radical mastectomy is less invasive, and generally has successful results.
- Partial mastectomy
During this procedure, only the cancerous parts of the breast tissue are removed.
- Subcutaneous (nipple-sparing) mastectomy
During this procedure, the breast tissue is removed through a small incision under the breast. The skin and nipple is left unharmed.
In most cases, the purpose of a mastectomy is to remove cancerous tissue from the breast. Your doctor will decide how much tissue needs to be removed, based on how much cancerous tissue is present in the body.
What should I know about a mastectomy?
Before undergoing the procedure, your medical team will guide you through the process. First, you will be asked to put on a surgical gown. Then, you may be required to take a sedative before you are connected to an intravenous line. You will be transferred to the operating room, where your anesthesiologist will administer a general anesthetic. Your surgeon will apply some antiseptic solution to the breast area, and a sterile drape will be placed around the site of the incision. Your surgeon will make incisions along the top and bottom of the breast, meeting just under the arm. The outer skin is then lifted, so that the tissue underneath is revealed, allowing your surgeon to remove the infected parts, carefully cutting the tissue away from the chest muscles underneath. The breast is then lifted away, leaving the top layer of muscle – the pectoralis major – exposed. In some cases, cancer may have spread to this layer of muscle, in which case it may need to be removed. When the infected tissue has been removed, your medical team will insert drainage tubes at the site of surgery before closing the incision and applying a sterile bandage. Total mastectomy surgery is major surgery, and after the operation is complete, you will notice a visible change in the shape and appearance of the chest.