What is a mastectomy?

A mastectomy is the surgical removal of part or the entire breast. Doctors most commonly perform a mastectomy to treat or prevent breast cancer in women. A mastectomy may also involve removing lymph nodes in the underarm and other tissues near the breast, such as chest muscle. Your surgeon may perform breast reconstruction surgery at the same time of your mastectomy or in a second surgery. 

Other treatments that may be recommended with a mastectomy include radiation treatment, hormone treatment, and/or chemotherapy. 

Mastectomy is a common but major surgery with serious risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options. Consider getting a second opinion about all of your treatment choices before having a mastectomy. 

Types of mastectomy

The type of mastectomy you receive depends on the stage and type of your breast cancer. The greater the spread of cancer cells, the more breast and nearby tissue your surgeon will remove. The types of mastectomy procedures include:

  • Partial mastectomy, also called a lumpectomy or segmental mastectomy, is a procedure to remove the cancerous breast tissue. Your surgeon will also remove a small area of normal breast tissue around the cancer. This conserves as much breast tissue as possible. 
  • Subcutaneous mastectomy, also called nipple-sparing mastectomy, is surgery to remove all or most of the breast tissue under the skin. This surgery leaves the nipple, areola, underarm lymph nodes, and chest muscle intact.
  • Simple mastectomy, also called total mastectomy, is the removal of the entire breast. This includes the breast tissue, nipple, areola, and skin. This surgery leaves the underarm lymph nodes and chest muscle intact. Your surgeon may also take a sample (tissue biopsy) of the nearby lymph nodes to test them for the spread of cancer.
  • Modified radical mastectomy is surgery to remove the entire breast. This includes the breast tissue, nipple, areola, skin and the underarm lymph nodes.
  • Radical mastectomy is the most extensive mastectomy procedure. Radical mastectomy removes the entire breast, including breast tissue, nipple, areola, and skin. Your surgeon will also remove your underarm lymph nodes and all of the chest wall muscles under the breast.

Why is a mastectomy performed?

Your doctor may recommend a mastectomy to treat breast cancer in women and men. Your doctor may only consider mastectomy if other treatment options that involve less risk of complications have been ineffective. Ask your doctor about all of your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion before deciding on a mastectomy.

Some people opt to have a prophylactic mastectomy to help prevent breast cancer. Your doctor may discuss a prophylactic mastectomy with you if you have a high risk of breast cancer. People who have a high risk of breast cancer include people who have a certain gene mutation, such as a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. Men and women with a mutation in either one of these genes have a much greater chance of developing breast cancer compared to men and women with normal copies of these genes.

Who performs a mastectomy?

A general surgeon performs a mastectomy. A general surgeon specializes in the surgical treatment of a wide variety of diseases, disorders and conditions. Some general surgeons specialize in the treatment of patients with breast disease; they may use the term breast surgeon

How is a mastectomy performed?

Your mastectomy will be performed in a hospital. The surgery involves making an incision in your chest. Your surgeon will then remove part or all of the breast and possibly the lymph nodes and chest wall muscles. 

Your surgeon will advise you on which procedure is best for you and how long you need to stay in the hospital based on your diagnosis, age, medical history, general health, and possibly your personal preference. Learn about the different mastectomy procedures and ask why your surgeon will use a particular type for you.

Types of anesthesia that may be used