Purpose of Mastectomy

A mastectomy is a procedure in which the entire breast is removed. It is done in an effort to remove breast tissue in order to treat or prevent a breast cancer diagnosis. While a mastectomy is only one of the possible treatment options for someone dealing with breast cancer, the surgery is typically recommended for those who can not treat breast cancer with a lumpectomy, or if the patient is at a higher risk of developing a reoccurrence of breast cancer due to family history or other health reasons.

Doctor performing breast exam

Saksit Kuson / EyeEm

Diagnosis Related to Mastectomy

A mastectomy is performed when a patient has been diagnosed with breast cancer, even if it’s a stage I diagnosis. This is done in conjunction with other breast cancer treatment options to ensure that the cancer will not regrow or spread to other areas of the body.

About 1 in 8 women (12%) will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. And while it’s possible for men to be diagnosed with breast cancer as well, the prevalence is significantly lower, affecting about 1 in 833 men during the average lifetime.

Many doctors will see if the patient is a candidate for a lumpectomy before deciding on a mastectomy, as it can conserve more of the breast tissue. But for some patients, a mastectomy is more effective, for reasons including:

  • Personal preference
  • A previous lumpectomy that did not resolve the cancer
  • Having two more areas of cancer in the breast (or in both breasts) that cannot be surgically removed together
  • Tumors larger than 2 inches across
  • Genetic factors such as having the BRCA gene that puts you at higher risk for a breast cancer reoccurrence down the road if the breast is not completely removed
  • Pre-existing conditions like scleroderma or lupus that may make you sensitive to radiation side effects
  • Those diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, a rare form of breast cancer (it accounts for 1% to 5% of all breast cancer diagnosis) that blocks blood vessels in the breast skin
  • Patients who cannot receive radiation, including pregnant women

Tests and Labs

The detection of breast cancer often begins with discovering a lump (whether by you during a self-exam or by your health care provider). A battery of tests and labs are then performed to assess whether cancer is present. These include:

Once these tests are performed and a breast cancer diagnosis is confirmed, your health care provider will stage and grade your breast cancer. This tells you if the cancer has spread anywhere else in the body as well as how aggressive of a cancer it is. This is what will help determine treatment options, including if a mastectomy is necessary, and what kind of mastectomy is best.

There are five different types of mastectomy procedures that may be considered:

  • Simple (also called total) mastectomy, where the entire breast tissue is removed but surrounding lymph nodes are not.
  • Modified radical mastectomy, which is when the entire breast tissue is removed in addition to underarm lymph nodes. These lymph nodes can be examined to determine if the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.
  • Radical mastectomy, a procedure performed when breast cancer has spread to the chest and muscles under the breast. This removes the breast along with underarm lymph nodes and chest muscles.
  • Partial mastectomy, which removes the cancerous tissue in the breast along with some normal tissue, but not the entire breast. This type of procedure may work for a low-risk patient that is only showing breast cancer in one isolated area of the breast without any spreading.
  • Nipple-sparing mastectomy, a procedure that removes the entire breast tissue but leaves the nipple skin. This may be a good option for patients who want to reconstruct their breasts after treating breast cancer and are the right candidates for this type of procedure.

A Word From Verywell

The idea of having a mastectomy procedure can be frightening, but if you and your healthcare provider find it’s the best choice for you it can be an extremely effective. For most patients, there is a 10% chance of reoccurrence in the treated breast after a mastectomy and a 0.5% chance in the untreated breast. There are also many reconstructive surgery procedures that can be done after a mastectomy to rebuild the breast. If this is something that may concern you, be sure to discuss it with your health care provider. They’ll be able to give you the latest information as well as refer you to a specialist.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Cancer Society. Mastectomy. September 18, 2019.

  2. Breastcancer.org. U.S. Breast cancer statistics. January 27, 2020.

  3. American Cancer Society. Key statistics for breast cancer in men. April 27, 2018.

  4. American Cancer Society. Inflammatory breast cancer. September 20, 2019.

  5. Breastcancer.org. What is a mastectomy? February 26, 2020.

  6. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Mastectomy versus lumpectomy: 3 questions to ask your doctor.