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What is a Mastectomy?

By J. Beam
Updated May 17, 2024
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A mastectomy is the removal, surgically, of the breast, typically performed to treat serious breast disease, most often breast cancer. There are four main types of this surgery: subcutaneous, total, modified radical, and radical mastectomy. The type of surgery is based on the removal of body parts in addition to the breast itself. For example, a total or simple mastectomy involves removal of the entire breast, but not the surrounding lymph nodes, while a modified radical mastectomy involves removal of the breast and surrounding lymph nodes.

Breast cancer is the most common reason for his procedure. It may also be done to prevent or drastically reduce the risk of breast cancer in some patients. This preventative procedure is called a prophylactic mastectomy and is only done after careful consideration and testing, including genetic testing and psychiatric evaluation.

Generally speaking, this procedure is very safe, with little risk of complication. It is performed under general anesthesia. An incision is made into the breast and the tissue is removed from the overlying skin and underlying muscle. Drain tubes are usually inserted to prevent fluid from collecting in the void left by the tissue removal and are later removed. The hospital stay ranges from one to three days, depending on the type of mastectomy and any subsequent complications.

Should a patient choose, reconstructive surgery can be done at the time of the mastectomy to restore the shape and symmetry of the body. Surgery to reconstruct the breast is also possible at a later date after recovery. Not all patients chose to have breast reconstruction and may simply choose to wear prosthetic devices or do nothing at all, especially in the event they undergo a double mastectomy.

As a treatment for breast cancer, this procedure can increase the long-term survival for patients providing the disease was diagnosed in its early stage. Regular examinations and mammograms greatly increase the chances of catching breast cancer in its early stages. The ten-year survival rate of breast cancer detected in its earliest stages is estimated at over 90%.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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