Authored by Revere Health

What is a Mastectomy?

January 24, 2017 | OB/GYN

For adult women, breast cancer can be a big health concern. It affects millions of women around the globe every year, often in life-threatening ways. One of the absolute musts in preventive health care for women involves regular breast exams, both from a doctor and done regularly at home.

For women who do develop breast cancer, one of the most common treatments they receive is called a mastectomy. A mastectomy is a surgical procedure to remove one or both breasts – including all the breast tissue and sometimes even tissue from other parts of the body next to the breasts.

Mastectomies are invasive, but unlike some other conditions where surgery is the last resort, breast cancer has few other less invasive treatments. Many people actually find a mastectomy to be far less invasive than chemotherapy and radiation treatment, though both are often used in many cases. Here are some of the basics of mastectomy.

Types of Mastectomies

There are a few different types of mastectomy:

  • Simple mastectomy: Also called a total mastectomy, this is the most common type. One entire breast is removed, but lymph nodes and muscles below the breast are left intact. Usually a one-day procedure.
  • Double mastectomy: When both breasts are removed. Sometimes a second breast will be removed as a precaution after the other breast has developed cancer.
  • Modified radical mastectomy: A simple mastectomy, but when lymph nodes under the arm are also removed.
  • Skin-sparing mastectomy: When skin over the breast is left in its normal form. Usually implants are used to replace the breast tissue that is removed below the skin.
  • Nipple-sparing mastectomy: Similar to skin-sparing, and usually only for women in early stages of cancer. The breast tissue can be removed while the nipple is left intact.
  • Radical mastectomy: When every part of the breast, including the lymph nodes and chest muscles under the breasts are removed. This is a more invasive surgery and is less common.

Reasons for Mastectomy

Mastectomy is done almost exclusively as a cancer treatment – either to remove cancer already present or to help prevent future cancer in the breasts. There are many types of cancer that may be treated with a mastectomy:

  • Stages I and II breast cancer, or the early stages
  • Stage III breast cancer, or advanced stage
  • Carcinoma
  • Inflammatory breast cancer (comes after unsuccessful chemotherapy treatment)
  • Paget’s disease

There are also several situations where a mastectomy might be the best solution, and chemotherapy or radiation might not be applicable. In addition, preventive mastectomy is common – when a woman has cancer in one breast, but both breasts are removed in a double mastectomy to prevent what’s often a high risk of spreading to the other breast.

Risks, Complications and Alternative Treatment

There are a few risks or complications associated with mastectomy:


  • Bleeding and infections
  • Pain and swelling in the affected areas
  • Shoulder pain
  • Scar tissue on the breasts
  • Numbness under the arms or near the breast area
  • Hematoma – a blood buildup near the surgery, which can potentially be a serious issue


For some people, an alternative treatment called lumpectomy is preferable to mastectomy. Lumpectomy is defined as “breast-conserving surgery,” and only the cancerous tumor is removed during this surgery rather than the entire breast. Lumpectomy can’t be used in every case, but many women prefer it when applicable because it’s less invasive and allows them to keep their natural breasts.

If you’re have a family history of breast cancer or experience any issues related to the breasts, contact your doctor or healthcare provider right away.


Obstetricians/gynecologists at Revere Health OB/GYN provide a full range of healthcare services to women throughout all stages of their lives including; puberty, child-bearing years, menopause.



“Mastectomy.” The Mayo Clinic.

“Mastectomy.” American Cancer Society.




Telehealth is not appropriate for every medical concern, so it’s important to ask your provider whether a virtual visit is suitable for your needs.

Learn more about Telehealth

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.