A mastectomy is usually carried out to treat breast cancer. In some cases, women and some men believed to be at high risk of breast cancer have the operation prophylactically, that is, as a preventive measure. It is also the medical procedure carried out to remove breast cancer tissue in males. Alternatively, some patients can choose to have a wide local excision, also known as a lumpectomy, an operation in which a small volume of breast tissue containing the tumor and a surrounding margin of healthy tissue is removed to conserve the breast.
Both mastectomy and lumpectomy are referred to as "local therapies" for breast cancer, targeting the area of the tumor, as opposed to systemic therapies such as chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, or immunotherapy.
Traditionally, in the case of breast cancer, the whole breast was removed. Currently the decision to do the mastectomy is based on various factors including breast size, number of lesions, biologic aggressiveness of a breast cancer, the availability of adjuvant radiation, and the willingness of the patient to accept higher rates of tumor recurrences after lumpectomy and radiation. Outcome studies comparing mastectomy to lumpectomy with radiation have suggested that routine radical mastectomy surgeries will not always prevent later distant secondary tumors arising from micro-metastases prior to discovery, diagnosis, and operation.
Currently, there are several surgical approaches to mastectomy, and the type that a patient decides to undergo (or whether she or he will decide instead to have a lumpectomy) depends on factors such as the size, location, and behavior of the tumor (if one is present), whether or not the surgery is prophylactic, and whether the patient intends to undergo reconstructive surgery.
- Simple mastectomy (or "total mastectomy"): In this procedure, the entire breast tissue is removed, but axillary contents are undisturbed. Sometimes the "sentinel lymph node"—that is, the first axillary lymph node that the metastasizing cancer cells would be expected to drain into—is removed. This surgery is sometimes done bilaterally (on both breasts) on patients who wish to undergo mastectomy as a cancer-preventative measure. Patients who undergo simple mastectomy can usually leave the hospital after a brief stay. Frequently, a drainage tube is inserted during surgery in their chest and attached to a small suction device to remove subcutaneous fluid. These are usually removed several days after surgery as drainage decrease to less than 20-30 ml per day. Women that are more likely to have the procedure of a simple or total mastectomy are those that have large areas of ductal carcinoma in situ or even those women that are removing the breast because of the possibility of breast cancer occurring in the future (prophylatic mastecomies).
- Modified radical mastectomy: The entire breast tissue is removed along with the axillary contents (fatty tissue and lymph nodes). In contrast to a radical mastectomy, the pectoral muscles are spared. This type of mastectomy is used to examine the lymph nodes because this helps to identify whether the cancer cells have spread beyond the breasts.
- Radical mastectomy (or "Halsted mastectomy"): First performed in 1882, this procedure involves removing the entire breast, the axillary lymph nodes, and the pectoralis major and minor muscles behind the breast. This procedure is more disfiguring than a modified radical mastectomy and provides no survival benefit for most tumors. This operation is now reserved for tumors involving the pectoralis major muscle or recurrent breast cancer involving the chest wall. It is only recommended for breast cancer that has spread to the chest muscles. Radical mastectomies have been reserved for only those cases because they can be disfiguring and modified radical mastectomies have been proven to be just as effective.
- Skin-sparing mastectomy: In this surgery, the breast tissue is removed through a conservative incision made around the areola (the dark part surrounding the nipple). The increased amount of skin preserved as compared to traditional mastecomy resections serves to facilitate breast reconstruction procedures. Patients with cancers that involve the skin, such as inflammatory cancer, are not candidates for skin-sparing mastectomy.
- Nipple-sparing/subcutaneous mastectomy: Breast tissue is removed, but the nipple-areola complex is preserved. This procedure was historically done only prophylactically or with mastecomy for benign disease over fear of increased cancer development in retained areolar ductal tissue. Recent series suggest that it may be an oncologically sound procedure for tumors not in the subareolar position.
- Extended Radical Mastectomy: Radical mastectomy with intrapleural en bloc resection of internal mammary lymph node by sternal splitting.
- Prophylactic bilateral mastectomy: This procedure is used as a preventative measure against breast cancer. The surgery is aimed to remove all breast tissue that could potentially develop into breast cancer. The surgery is generally considered when the patient has BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations in their genes. The tissue from just beneath the skin to the chest wall and around the borders of the breast needs to be removed from both breasts during this procedure. Because breast cancer develops in the gladular tissue (milk ducts and milk lobules) must be removed also. Because the region is so large ranging from the collarbone to the lower rib margin, and from the middle of the chest, around the side and under the arm it is very difficult to remove all of the tissue. This genetic mutation is a high risk factor for the development of breast cancer, family history, or atypical lobular hyperplasia (when irregular cells line the milk lobes.) This type of procedure is said to reduce the risk for breast cancer by 100%. However, other circumstances may effect the outcome. Studies have shown that pre-menopausal women have had a higher survival rate after this procedure had been done.
Before the operation everyone will meet with the surgeon a few days before the surgery or even the day before. During this time the extent and specific details regarding the mastectomy will be discussed along with the patients medical history. The patient will have time to ask any questions regarding the procedure at this time and after everything is addressed a consent form is signed. Information about not eating or drinking anything beforehand will be gone over as well. The patient will also meet with the anesthesiologist or the health professional who is going to be giving the anesthesia the day of the operation.
The day of the operation the patient will have an IV line started, which will be used to give medicine. Since this an extensive procedure the patient will be hooked up to an EKG machine and also have a blood pressure cuff to monitor vitals and the heart rhythm throughout the whole surgery. The anesthesia will be given, which will result in the patient going to sleep. The timing of the surgery all depends on the extent and what type of mastectomy the patient will be having.
When the procedure is complete the patient will be taken to a recovery room where they are monitored until they wake up and their vital signs remain stable. It is normal for women that have mastectomies to remain in the hospitals for 1 to 2 nights and then are released to go home if they are doing well. The decision for discharge should be made by the doctor based on the patients overall health at the time. The patient is going to be dressed with a bandage over the surgery site that is wrapped around the chest snugly. It is common to have drains coming from the incision site to help remove blood and lymph to initiate the healing process. Patients may have to be taught to empty, care, and measure the fluid from the drains. Measuring the fluids will help identify any problems the doctors need to be aware of. Patients should be taught the effects of the surgery, such as regular activity may be altered. There is a possibility that pain, numbness, or tingling in the chest and arm could continue long after the surgery has been done. It is recommended that patients see their surgeon 7–14 days after the surgery, during this time the doctor will explain the results and talk about further treatment if needed such as radiation and chemotherapy. The doctor might refer the patient to a plastic surgeon if they showed interest in breast reconstruction surgery.
Possible side effects
According to cancer.org, aside from the post-surgical pain and the obvious change in the shape of the breast(s), possible side effects of a mastectomy include wound infection, hematoma (buildup of blood in the wound), and the seroma (buildup of clear fluid in the wound). If the lymph nodes are also removed, additional side effects may occur.
Despite the increased ability to offer breast-conservation techniques to patients with breast cancer, certain groups may be better served by traditional mastectomy procedures including:
- women who have already had radiation therapy to the affected breast
- women with 2 or more areas of cancer in the same breast that are too far apart to be removed through 1 surgical incision, while keeping the appearance of the breast satisfactory
- women whose initial lumpectomy along with (one or more) re-excisions has not completely removed the cancer
- women with certain serious connective tissue diseases such as scleroderma, which make them especially sensitive to the side effects of radiation therapy
- pregnant women who would require radiation while still pregnant (risking harm to the child)
- women with a tumor larger than 5 cm (2 inches) that doesn't shrink very much with neoadjuvant chemotherapy
- women with a cancer that is large relative to her breast size
- women who have tested positive for a deleterious mutation on the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene and opt for a preventive mastectomy, since they are at high risk for the development of breast cancer.
- male breast cancer patients
- transgender male, FTM, trans-masculine, genderqueer and gender variant individuals who do not identify with their breast tissue as a method of gender affirmative medicine.
Mastectomy rates vary tremendously worldwide, as was documented by the 2004 'Intergroup Exemestane Study', an analysis of surgical techniques used in an international trial of adjuvant treatment among 4,700 women with early breast cancer in 37 countries. The mastectomy rate was highest in central and eastern Europe at 77%. The USA had the second highest rate of mastectomy with 56%, western and northern Europe averaged 46%, southern Europe 42% and Australia and New Zealand 34%.
Mastectomy for breast cancer was performed at least as early as 548 AD, when it was proposed by the court physician Aëtius of Amida to Theodora. She declined the surgery, and died a few months later.
Role In modern design
Mastectomy clothing is currently one of the fastest growing areas of the fashion world. Many designers are catering to more diverse groups of women, including those who have undergone transformative surgery. Cosmetic and hygiene companies like Dove, with their Dove Campaign for Real Beauty have launched campaigns in recent years promoting a great acceptance of female bodies, helping to reverse the reputation of the fashion world as being promotors of unhealthy body images. Other designs have catered to the medical market and those affected by surgical procedure. Many dresses designed with this market in mind have built in padded cups or have pouches so that inserts of various sizes can be place in either or both cups of the garment. Some fashion designers even produce mastectomy swimwear with a similar format in mind
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- Advice for Men with Breast Cancer at National Cancer Institute
- Mastectomy study at BBC
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- Mastectomy - slideshow by The New York Times