to view an animated version of this procedure.
A mastectomy is a surgery done to remove breast tissue. Mastectomy procedures include: Breast-conserving surgery: Lumpectomy—The tumor and a small margin of normal breast tissue around it is removed.Partial mastectomy—Removal of part of the breast that has cancer and some normal tissue around it. This may include removal of lymph nodes or the lining of the chest muscle.Breast-tissue removal surgery: Simple mastectomy—The entire breast is removed, including the nipple and areola.Skin-sparing mastectomy—The skin that covers the breast is left intact except for the nipple and areola. This surgery is similar to a simple mastectomy. It is done when immediate breast reconstruction is planned. The procedure has limitations and may not be an option for all women.Modified radical mastectomy—The entire breast, some lymph nodes in the armpit, and any affected chest muscle is removed.Radical mastectomy—The entire breast, lymph nodes, and muscles of the chest wall are removed (rarely done).
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A mastectomy is done:
breast cancer—removing cancer cells and any affected tissue
To prevent breast cancer—women with a very high risk of developing breast cancer may have one or both breasts removedTo treat severe side effects from previous treatment—some people with autoimmune diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus or scleroderma may not be able to tolerate skin side effects from radiation therapy
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like: Bleeding and bruisingSeroma—accumulation of clear fluid in the incisionInfectionLymphedema—swelling of the arm caused by accumulation of fluid in lymph nodesLimited arm and shoulder movementNumbness of skin on upper armPain after the procedure, such as burning pr stabbing pain where breast was removed
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include: ObesityPoor nutritionSmokingRecent or chronic illnessUse of certain medications or dietary supplements
Your doctor may do the following: Physical examMammogram—a test that uses low-dose x-rays to make a picture of breast tissue
Fine needle biopsy to test the breast tissue for cancerBlood and urine tests
Leading up to the surgery:
Talk to your doctor about your medications and supplements. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to 1 week before the procedure.Arrange for a ride home.Eat a light meal the night before the surgery. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight, unless otherwise instructed.
The extent of the surgery will depend on the type of mastectomy you are having.
For breast-conserving surgeries, an incision is made where the tumor is located. The tumor is taken out along with a small bit of normal tissue that surrounds it.
For breast-tissue removal procedures, the entire breast, and fatty tissue are removed. The doctor may also need to remove lymph nodes and portions chest muscles that support the breast. Tissue that is removed during surgery is examined under a microscope for any abnormalities. If you have skin-sparing surgery, the skin around the breast will be retained.
After either surgery doctor will then insert a tube to drain blood and fluids. Lastly, the area will be closed with stitches.
Anesthesia will prevent pain during the procedure. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
Right after the procedure, you will be in a recovery room where your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing will be monitored. Recovery may also include: Pain medicationsAntibiotics to prevent infectionMedication to prevent blood clotsGetting out of bed and moving around within 24 hours of your surgery
If you had cancer and it has spread,
may be needed.
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection such as: Washing their handsWearing gloves or masksKeeping your incisions covered
There are also steps you can take to reduce your chances of infection such as: Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and healthcare providers to do the sameReminding your healthcare providers to wear gloves or masksNot allowing others to touch your incisions
Recovery will take about 6 weeks. Self-care measures and medications will help ease discomfort. Activity may be restricted during this time, but complete rest is not necessary. The care staff will help you with exercises to help maintain arm strength and prevent lymphedema. To prevent infection at the incision site, follow instructions on how to clean and care for the wound.
Ask your doctor when you can begin wearing a light-weight prosthetic breast. You can be fitted for a more permanent one when the incision area has healed. If you want
surgery, talk to your doctor.
It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor: New signs of infection, including fever and chillsIncreased redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the incision siteCough, shortness of breath, or chest painPersistent nausea and/or vomitingRedness, warmth, swelling, stiffness, or hardness in the arm or hand on the side of the body where the lymph nodes were removedNew or worsening pain and/or swelling in your feet, calves, or legsLumps or skin changes in remaining tissue on mastectomy sideLumps, skin changes, or nipple drainage in remaining breastSymptoms of depression that last more than 2 week
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Axillary lymph nodes. Breast Cancer website. Available at:
http://www.breastcancer.org/pictures/breast_anatomy/axillary_lymph_nodes. Updated September 17, 2013. Accessed January 3, 2014.
Breast cancer in women. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 16, 2013. Accessed January 3, 2014.
Surgery for breast cancer.
American Cancer Society. Available at:
http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-treating-surgery. Updated December 31, 2013. Accessed January 3, 2014.
Surgery for early and locally advanced breast cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 22, 2013. Accessed January 3, 2014.
Treatments and side effects. Breast Cancer website. Available at:
http://www.breastcancer.org/treatment. Updated May 15, 2013. Accessed January 3, 2014.
Last reviewed January 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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