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Mastectomy

Breasts showing a simple (total) mastectomy incision

Mastectomy is surgery to remove the breast. The most common mastectomies are called simple (or total) and modified radical. During these procedures, the chest muscle is not removed. As a result, arm strength remains. Keeping the chest muscle also makes reconstruction easier.

Cutaway view of breasts showing a tumor and the tumor and tissue removed

Simple (total) mastectomy

During a simple mastectomy, the breast tissue (lobules, ducts, and fatty tissue) and a strip of skin containing the nipple are removed. This surgery most often requires a hospital stay. Based on the results of surgery and follow-up tests, further treatment may be needed.

Cutaway view of breasts showing tumor and tumor and tissue removed

Modified radical mastectomy

This type of mastectomy is usually done to treat invasive cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes. During the mastectomy the breast tissue and a strip of skin with the nipple is removed. Some of the axillary lymph nodes are also removed. The removed nodes are tested for cancer. Sometimes a surgical drain is placed to keep fluid from building up. This drain usually stays in for 1 to 2 weeks after surgery. Modified radical mastectomy almost always requires a hospital stay. Based on the results of the surgery and follow-up tests, further treatment may also be needed.

Risks and complications of mastectomy

  • Pain or numbness under the arm

  • Bleeding or infection

  • Stiffness of the shoulder

  • Fluid collection (seroma)

  • Long-term swelling of the arm (lymphedema)

  • Wound-healing problems

 

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