Many patients with breast cancer will undergo surgery to remove the tumor. For some patients, lumpectomy (also called a partial or segmental mastectomy) is the best choice. This type of surgery removes the cancer but preserves most of the breast. For other patients, mastectomy (surgery to remove the whole breast) is a more appropriate treatment.

Many women who have been diagnosed with stage I or stage II cancer can choose between breast-conserving surgery followed by radiation and mastectomy, which may or may not need to be followed by radiation therapy. The survival rates for both treatments are equal.

Types Of Mastectomies

There are a few types of mastectomies, each of which involves removing different parts of the breasts and surrounding tissues.

  • Simple mastectomy, also called total mastectomy, removes the whole breast but preserves the muscles that support the breasts and the lymph nodes found under the arm.
  • Skin-sparing mastectomy preserves the skin that covers the breast, and may be a good choice for women who want to have reconstructive surgery immediately.
  • Nipple-sparing mastectomy leaves the nipple and areola intact.
  • Modified radical mastectomy removes the breast as well as the lymph nodes under the arm.
  • Radical mastectomy is used if the muscles under the breast are cancerous. The surgeon may remove the breast, lymph nodes under the arm, and chest muscles beneath the breast.
  • Prophylactic mastectomy is a controversial procedure. Some women who have a high risk of breast cancer choose to have their breasts removed before they develop cancer.

What Will The Surgery Be Like?

  • Before: Once a biopsy confirms that you have breast cancer, you will meet with your surgeon to talk about breast cancer surgery. You’ll sign a consent form, and your surgeon will let you know what steps you need to take before surgery, such as going off of specific medications or meeting with your anesthesiologist. Get all your questions answered at this time.
  • During: For most mastectomies, you will receive general anesthesia. You’ll be asleep and not feel anything. You will have an IV for medications; your health team will monitor your heart and blood pressure throughout the surgery. The surgery may take a few hours to complete.
  • After: Depending on your health and how extensive your surgery is, you may be able to go home that day, or you may need to stay in the hospital for one to two nights. Your chest will be wrapped tightly with a bandage, and you may have a tube placed to help the surgical wounds drain.

Your surgeon will give you detailed instructions on how to care for the wound, what to expect during recovery, and when to contact your health care team. For many women, undergoing mastectomy is an important step in going on to live a healthy, cancer-free life.