Mastectomy is surgical removal of an entire breast to treat breast cancer. It’s usually performed on women who cannot be treated with lumpectomy. There are several types of mastectomies:

  • Simple (or total mastectomy) removes the entire breast, including the nipple, areola, and skin. Depending upon the situation, some underarm lymph nodes may also be removed. Most women, if hospitalized, spend one night in the hospital following the surgery.
  • Skin-sparing mastectomy removes the breast tissue, nipple, and areola, but leaves most of the skin over the breast intact. During the procedure, a surgeon reconstructs the breast using implants or other parts of the body. Skin-sparing mastectomy leaves less scar tissue and a more natural-looking appearance after reconstruction, but may not be suitable for larger tumors or those that are close to the skin’s surface.
  • Nipple-sparing mastectomy removes the breast tissue, but leaves the breast skin and nipple in place. During the procedure, a surgeon often removes the breast tissue beneath the nipple (and areola) to check for cancer cells. Even if no cancer is found under the nipple, some doctors administer radiation to the nipple tissue during or after the surgery to help reduce the risk of the cancer recurring. Many doctors believe nipple-sparing mastectomy is most effective for women with small- to medium-sized breasts.
  • Radical mastectomy removes the entire breast, axillary (underarm) lymph nodes, and the pectoral (chest wall) muscles under the breast. It is rarely performed unless there are large tumors growing into the pectoral muscles.
  • Double mastectomy removes both breasts for women at very high risk of getting breast cancer.