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A mastectomy is surgery to remove all breast tissue from a breast as a way to treat or prevent breast cancer.
For those with early-stage breast cancer, a mastectomy may be one treatment option. Breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy), in which only the tumor is removed from the breast, may be another option.
Deciding between a mastectomy and lumpectomy can be difficult. Both procedures are equally effective for preventing a recurrence of breast cancer. But a lumpectomy isn’t an option for everyone with breast cancer, and others prefer to undergo a mastectomy.
Both mastectomy and lumpectomy are referred to as “local therapies” for breast cancer, targeting the area of the tumor, as opposed to systemic therapies, such as chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, or immunotherapy.
Traditionally, in the case of breast cancer, the whole breast was removed. Currently, the decision to do the mastectomy is based on various factors, including breast size, the number of lesions, biologic aggressiveness of a breast cancer, the availability of adjuvant radiation, and the willingness of the patient to accept higher rates of tumor recurrences after lumpectomy and radiation. Outcome studies comparing mastectomy to lumpectomy with radiation have suggested that routine radical mastectomy surgeries will not always prevent later distant secondary tumors arising from micro-metastases prior to discovery, diagnosis, and operation.
Newer mastectomy techniques can preserve breast skin and allow for a more natural breast appearance following the procedure. This is also known as skin-sparing mastectomy.
Surgery to restore shape to your breast — called breast reconstruction — may be done at the same time as your mastectomy or during a second operation at a later date.
Currently, there are several surgical approaches to mastectomy, and the type that a person decides to undergo (or whether she or he will decide instead to have a lumpectomy) depends on factors such as the size, location, and behavior of the tumor (if one is present), whether or not the surgery is prophylactic, and whether the person intends to undergo reconstructive surgery.
* Simple mastectomy (or “total mastectomy”): In this procedure, the entire breast tissue is removed, but axillary contents are undisturbed. Sometimes the “sentinel lymph node”—that is, the first axillary lymph node that the metastasizing cancer cells would be expected to drain into—is removed.
* Modified radical mastectomy: The entire breast tissue is removed along with the axillary contents (fatty tissue and lymph nodes). In contrast to a radical mastectomy, the pectoral muscles are spared. This type of mastectomy is used to examine the lymph nodes because this helps to identify whether the cancer cells have spread beyond the breasts.
* Radical mastectomy (or “Halsted mastectomy”): First performed in 1882, this procedure involves removing the entire breast, the axillary lymph nodes, and the pectoralis major and minor muscles behind the breast.
* Skin-sparing mastectomy: In this surgery, the breast tissue is removed through a conservative incision made around the areola (the dark part surrounding the nipple).
* Nipple-sparing/subcutaneous mastectomy: Breast tissue is removed, but the nipple-areola complex is preserved. This procedure was historically done only prophylactically or with mastectomy for the benign disease over the fear of increased cancer development in retained areolar ductal tissue. Recent series suggest that it may be an oncologically sound procedure for tumors not in the subareolar position.
* Extended Radical Mastectomy: Radical mastectomy with intrapleural en bloc resection of internal mammary lymph node by sternal splitting.
* Prophylactic mastectomy: This procedure is used as a preventative measure against breast cancer. The surgery is aimed to remove all breast tissue that could potentially develop into breast cancer.
Risks of a mastectomy include:
* Swelling (lymphedema) in your arm if you have an axillary node dissection
* Formation of hard scar tissue at the surgical site
* Shoulder pain and stiffness
* Numbness, particularly under your arm, from lymph node removal
Buildup of blood in the surgical site (hematoma)
Before the operation, everyone will meet with the surgeon a few days before the surgery or even the day before, however, a much longer period is very beneficial since it allows the patient for a more objective weighing of the options. Although there is some urgency in timing the surgery, the patient needs some time after the initial shock of hearing the cancer verdict; otherwise, she may later regret her decision. The extent and specific details regarding the mastectomy will be discussed along with the person’s medical history.
Of extreme importance will be the woman’s decision whether the entire breast is to be removed, or only a part of it – and that is usually much more a personal choice than a medical assessment. The medical viewpoint stresses the statistical fact of much stronger chances for cure and survival when the breast is removed completely, even when the size of the cancer is small. From the personal viewpoint, the perspective of not having the breast is very painful and difficult to accept. At this point the support of the family and of good friends can make the difference between life and death, since it is easier for friends to present the after-the-surgery future in the “matter of fact” way, thus facilitating the reasonable decision. The dilemma of the vital importance will be weighing the aesthetics and pride, against the chances of curing and surviving, which are much better when the breast is removed 100% completely. During these considerations, very painful indeed, one needs to realize that a woman’s flat chest without breasts, even without nipples, does not look bad at all, nothing to feel embarrassed of, or to be ashamed by; it looks just neutral – much better than a partly removed, disfigured breast. Since the surgery is unavoidable, for people open to see the problem in this way, the choice becomes easier.
Before the surgery the person will have time to ask any questions regarding the procedure at this time and after everything is addressed a consent form is signed. Information about not eating or drinking anything beforehand will be gone over as well. The person will also meet with the anesthesiologist or the health professional who is going to be giving the anesthesia the day of the operation.
Recent research has indicated that mammograms should not be done with any increased frequency than normal procedure in people undergoing breast surgery, including breast augmentation, mastopexy, and breast reduction.
The day of the operation the person will have an IV line started, which will be used to give medicine. Since this is an extensive procedure the person will be hooked up to an EKG machine and also have a blood pressure cuff to monitor vitals and the heart rhythm throughout the whole surgery. The anesthesia will be given, which will result in the person going to sleep. The timing of the surgery all depends on the extent and what type of mastectomy the person will be having.
When the procedure is complete the patient will be taken to a recovery room where they are monitored until they wake up and their vital signs remain stable. It is normal for people that have mastectomies to remain in the hospitals for 1 to 2 nights and they are released to go home if they are doing well. The decision for discharge should be made by the doctor based on the person’s overall health at the time. The person is dressed with a bandage over the surgery site that is wrapped around the chest snugly. It is common to have drains coming from the incision site to help remove blood and lymph to initiate the healing process. Patients may have to be taught to empty, care, and measure the fluid from the drains. Measuring the fluids will help identify any problems the doctors need to be aware of. Patients should be taught the effects of the surgery, such as regular activity may be altered. There is a possibility that pain, numbness, or tingling in the chest and arm could continue long after the surgery has been done. It is recommended that patients see their surgeon 7–14 days after the surgery, during this time the doctor will explain the results and talk about further treatment if needed such as radiation and chemotherapy. The doctor might refer the patient to a plastic surgeon if she showed interest in breast reconstruction surgery.