What is a Mastectomy?

In the past, breast cancer surgery often required removing the entire breast, chest wall, and all axillary lymph nodes in a procedure called a radical mastectomy. While radical mastectomies are less common today, there are instances in which this surgery is the best option to treat the cancer. 

If the cancer is detected early enough, there are usually options that will remove the cancer while preserving breast tissue. The common options are a lumpectomy (most often followed by breast radiation treatments) and a partial mastectomy.

The more common mastectomy procedures today are:

Partial Mastectomy

A partial mastectomy requires the surgeon to remove a larger portion of the breast than in the lumpectomy — perhaps a whole segment or quadrant of tissue — in order to eliminate the cancer. Occasionally, the surgeon will remove some of the lining over the chest muscles as well.

Skin-Sparing Mastectomy

This procedure requires removal of the breast, nipple, areola, and sentinel lymph node (or nodes) but not the breast skin. Many women who intend to have breast reconstruction will opt for this procedure.

Simple Mastectomy (also known as total mastectomy)

This surgery requires removal of the breast, nipple, areola, and sentinel lymph node or nodes. It leaves the chest wall and more distant lymph nodes intact.

Modified Radical Mastectomy

This procedure requires removal of the entire breast, nipple, areola, and axillary lymph nodes but often leaves the chest wall intact.