A mastectomy is a surgical procedure which involves removing all of the breast tissue, sometimes along with other nearby tissues.
There are several types of mastectomy. As stated by the American Cancer Society, they are:
- Simple or total mastectomy: In this surgery the entire breast is removed, but not the lymph nodes under the arm or the muscle tissue beneath the breast. Sometimes both breasts are removed, especially when mastectomy is done to try to prevent cancer. If a hospital stay is needed, most women can go home the next day. For some women who are planning on having reconstruction right away, a skin-sparing mastectomy can be done. For this, most of the skin over the breast (other than the nipple and areola) is left intact. This can work as well as a simple mastectomy. The amount of breast tissue removed is the same as with a simple mastectomy. Although this approach has not been used for as long as the more standard type of mastectomy, many women prefer it because there is less scar tissue and the reconstructed breast seems more natural.
- Modified radical mastectomy: This operation involves removing the entire breast and some of the lymph nodes under the arm. This is the most common surgery for women with breast cancer who are having the whole breast removed.
- Radical mastectomy: This is a major operation where the surgeon removes the entire breast, underarm (axillary) lymph nodes, and the chest wall muscles under the breast. This surgery was once very common, but it is rarely done now because modified radical mastectomy has proven to work just as well. But this operation may still be done for large tumors that are growing into the muscles under the breast.
A mastectomy is usually done in a hospital, with a stay of a few days.
Immediately after the surgery, you will have a bandage over your breast area and there may be one or more tubes in your breast or underarm area. If a drain is left in when you go home, this does NOT indicate a problem. (To learn more, see: What To Expect After A Mastectomy)
Before leaving the hospital, find out what you can and cannot do, and for how long. Preferably get the instructions in writing. For additional questions to ask, click here.
- Check the hospital bill before you leave - or soon after you get home. A high percentage of hospital bills have mistakes - usually in the hospital's favor. (Click here to learn how to check a hospital bill).
- Hospital bills are negotiable. To learn how to negotiate the amount owed to a hospital bill, click here.