What is a Mastectomy?

Mastectomy surgery is a procedure performed on patients with breast cancer. Mastectomy involves removing one or both of the breasts to prevent the cancer from spreading.

The extent of breast surgery will depend on a couple of factors, these factors include the breast cancer stage the individual is at, the individual's breast size, and whether or not the patient will undergo reconstructive breast surgery after mastectomy.

Women who are pregnant may decide to have a mastectomy as opposed to undergoing radiation treatment as the radiation can harm the unborn baby. Read about other reasons for a mastectomy to help you decide the right option for you.

Types of Mastectomies

Several types of mastectomies may be performed to treat a patient with breast cancer. These types include the following:

  • Partial Mastectomy or Segmented Mastectomy. Partial mastectomy involves the removal of a small portion, about a quarter of the breast. This type of breast surgery is the least invasive and may be performed during early breast cancer stages or to remove small tumors.
  • Total or Simple Mastectomy. A total mastectomy removes the whole breast including the nipple and breast skin.
  • Modified Radical Mastectomy. Modified radical mastectomy is the most common type of mastectomy performed to treat breast cancer. It's similar to a total mastectomy that involves removing the entire breast, plus breast skin and nipple. But in a radical mastectomy the axillary lymph nodes are also removed for preventive measures.
  • Radical Mastectomy. A radical mastectomy procedure is performed infrequently. It involves removing the entire breast, including the axillary lymph nodes and muscle lining of the chest wall.

What are Axillary Lymph Nodes?

Axillary lymph nodes are located beside the breasts under a woman's armpits. These lymph nodes work to fight infections and drain body fluids. To test for signs of breast cancer, the lymph nodes may be removed and examined. If cancer cells are found in the sample of lymph nodes, it may indicate a later stage of breast cancer and can help doctors pick a more suitable breast cancer treatment for the patient.

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