What is a Mastectomy?
A mastectomy is the surgical removal of the entire breast.
Some women have the option of a mastectomy or a lumpectomy (also called a breast-conserving surgery), and choose a mastectomy. For other women, a mastectomy is the only breast cancer surgery option.
Treatment for breast cancer
A mastectomy is an option for people who have:
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
- Invasive breast cancer (non-metastatic)
- Inflammatory breast cancer
- Paget disease of the breast (Paget disease of the nipple)
Types of mastectomy
There are 2 main types of mastectomy: total (simple) and modified radical. Your diagnosis guides the type of mastectomy you will have.
The figure below shows the types of mastectomy and describes when each is used.
Total (simple) mastectomy
The surgeon removes the entire breast and the lining of the chest muscle, but no other tissue.
In some cases, the nipple may also be left intact. This is called a nipple-sparing mastectomy.
A sentinel node biopsy may be done, or no lymph nodes may be removed, depending on the breast cancer.
A total (simple) mastectomy may be used to treat:
A total mastectomy is also used for women at high risk who have risk-reducing mastectomy.
Sometimes breast reconstruction is done at the same time as a mastectomy.
Modified radical mastectomy
The surgeon removes the entire breast, the lining of the chest muscles and the lymph nodes in the underarm area (axillary lymph nodes).
A modified radical mastectomy may be used to treat:
Sometimes, breast reconstruction is done at the same time as a mastectomy. With inflammatory breast cancer, breast reconstruction can’t be done at the same time as a mastectomy. However, it may be done at a later time.
Skin-sparing mastectomy and nipple-sparing mastectomy
A skin-sparing mastectomy removes all the breast tissue but saves much of the skin of the breast. The plastic surgeon can use this skin as an envelope to help form the reconstructed breast.
A nipple-sparing mastectomy is a skin-sparing mastectomy that also preserves the nipple and areola.
Mastectomy with breast reconstruction
Some women choose to have breast reconstruction to help restore the look of the breast that was removed.
Reconstruction may be done at the same time as the mastectomy (immediate) or at a later time (delayed). In general, cosmetic results are better with immediate reconstruction.
Discuss your reconstruction options with your plastic surgeon before breast surgery.
Learn more about breast reconstruction.
Mastectomy with breast prosthesis
If you don’t have breast reconstruction, you can get a breast prosthesis that best fits your lifestyle. This is a breast form made of silicone gel, foam or other materials that’s fitted to your chest. It’s usually worn in a special bra.
The form is placed directly on top of your skin with a stick-on patch, or it’s placed in the pocket of a special bra.
The surgeon will leave the area as flat as possible so the prosthesis can be comfortably fitted to your chest.
Your prosthesis can be properly fitted to you several weeks after your mastectomy surgery.
Your health care provider can discuss your breast prosthesis options with you.
Breast prosthesis and air travel
Susan G. Komen® wants to make sure people who have breast cancer are treated with respect and dignity.
When you travel by air, these steps may be helpful:
Learn about TSA screening if you wear a compression sleeve.
If you have concerns about airline security screening, visit the TSA website.
Mastectomy with a flat closure
If you don’t want to have breast reconstruction or use a breast prosthesis after a mastectomy, you can have a flat closure. This is also called going flat.
With a flat closure, the skin remaining after a mastectomy is tightened and smoothed to flatten out the chest wall as much as possible. However, the area will not be completely flat or smooth. How flat the area will be after surgery varies from person to person. There will also be a scar.
Talk with your health care provider about your surgery options. If you choose to go flat, talk with your surgeon before breast surgery.
Most women who have a mastectomy don’t need radiation therapy.
However, in some cases, radiation therapy is used after a mastectomy to treat the chest wall, the lymph nodes in the underarm area (axillary lymph nodes) and/or the lymph nodes around the collarbone.
If your treatment plan includes chemotherapy, you will have radiation therapy after you finish chemotherapy.
When is a lumpectomy plus radiation therapy an option to a mastectomy?
Learn about deciding between a lumpectomy and a mastectomy.
Although the exact treatment for breast cancer varies from person to person, evidence-based guidelines help ensure high-quality care. These guidelines are based on the latest research and agreement among experts.
In addition, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has treatment overviews.
Talk with your health care team about which treatment guidelines they use.
After you get a recommended treatment plan from your health care team, study your treatment options. Together with your health care team, make thoughtful, informed decisions that are best for you. Each treatment option has risks and benefits to consider along with your own values and lifestyle.
Transportation, lodging, child care and elder care assistance
You may not live near the hospital where you’ll have your surgery.
Sometimes, there are programs that help with local or long-distance transportation and lodging. Some also offer transportation and lodging for a friend or family member going with you.
There are also programs to help you with child and elder care costs.
You’re not alone
If you’re facing breast cancer surgery, it’s normal to feel worried or afraid. Many people have been where you are today. They had the same fears and faced the same tough choices. They’ve gone through breast cancer treatment, recovered and are living their lives.
It may help to talk with others who’ve finished treatment to help ease your fears. You can do this in a support group or by connecting one-on-one with another breast cancer survivor.
You can also talk with your health care providers about how you’re coping. They care about your overall well-being and can help you find ways to improve it. In addition to suggesting a support group, they may connect you to another member of your health care team, such as a social worker or patient navigator, for support. They may also refer you to a counselor.
Our Support section has a list of resources to help you find local and online support groups and other resources.
Learn about ways to cope with stress.
Susan G. Komen® Support Resources