A mastectomy refers to the surgery performed to remove the breasts, either completely or partially. This was one of the traditional methods in the treatment of breast cancer for a long time. It is also used as a method to reduce the chances of developing breast cancer for women who have a high risk of it. Complete removal of the breast tissue used to be the solution, but, as techniques progressed, more options are now available for women with this disease. In some cases, less invasive methods that can conserve the breasts are now available for treatment.
The type of mastectomy recommended for a person depends on factors like:
- Health conditions
- Size, stage, and grade of the tumor
- The tumor’s hormone receptor status
- Lymph node involvement in the disease
Some of the most common methods of mastectomy include:
- Preventive mastectomy: A prophylactic mastectomy is normally used for women who have a high risk of developing breast cancer. There are two types of methods: one where the entire breast tissue, along with the nipple, is removed, which is referred to as total mastectomy; the other, called a subcutaneous mastectomy, where the nipple is left intact while the whole breast is removed. This method helps reduce the risk significantly. Those who had breast cancer in one breast can have a preventive mastectomy for the other to reduce recurrence. Breast reconstruction is usually done using synthetic implants or tissue from other parts of the body.
- Partial mastectomy: This is generally opted for women with stage I or II breast cancer. Here, the part of the breast containing the tumor is removed. This is then followed by radiation therapy to kill cancer cells, if any, and to prevent recurrence. In another method, called a lumpectomy, only the lump or tumor with some surrounding tissue is removed. More tissues may be removed if it recurs at a later stage. If the cancer cells encompass more than just a small area, the whole breast is removed when it recurs.
- Radical mastectomy: This refers to the complete removal of the breast tissue, along with the nipple. Skin, underlying muscle, and the lymph nodes also may be removed along with the breast tissue. This was the most popular method to treat breast cancer until the discovery of less invasive forms of surgery. In a modified version of the radical mastectomy, breast tissue and lymph nodes are removed, leaving muscle and skin intact. This may or may not be followed by breast reconstruction.