The mastectomy explained

It’s not an easy subject to navigate, especially if a friend or loved one has just been diagnosed with breast cancer, or is struggling with her journey, so we thought we’d try and explain a few of the basics. We don’t claim to be doctors or experts at NOOD so the science is kept to a minimum, explanations are short but factually correct. If you need more information there’s a great bunch of people who are loaded with information and other people who can help.

mastectomy explained

What is a mastectomy?

A mastectomy is a surgery to remove all breast tissue, and sometimes skin and/or surrounding muscles, from a breast as a way to treat or prevent breast cancer.


Why it's done?

If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, or are at very high risk of developing it, a mastectomy is used to remove all breast tissue in a bid to stop the cancer either rooting or spreading further. You may have a mastectomy to remove one breast (unilateral mastectomy) or both breasts (bilateral mastectomy).

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What are the main types of mastectomy?

Standard mastectomy: A surgery where all of the breast tissue and most of the skin covering from the breast it is removed.

Skin-sparing mastectomy: When all of the breast tissue is removed, including the nipple, but most of the skin covering the breast is left.

Nipple-sparing mastectomy: A skin-sparing mastectomy where the nipple isn't removed.

Radical mastectomy: This is now a rare procedure where all of the breast tissue is removed, as well as the skin covering it, the two muscles behind the breast and the lymph nodes in the armpit.

Modified radical mastectomy: As above, except the large muscle behind the breast (the larger of the two pectoral muscles) is left in place. The operation usually involves removing most of the breast tissue and skin, and the nipple.


Why a mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy (a surgery to remove the cancerous part) plus radiation?


According to the these are just a few of the reasons your doctor might prefer a mastectomy. However, it is ultimately the choice of the patient.


  • You have two or more tumors in separate areas of the breast.
  • You have widespread or malignant-appearing calcium deposits (microcalcifications) throughout the breast that have been determined to be cancer after a breast biopsy.
  • You've previously had radiation treatment to the breast region and the breast cancer has recurred in the breast.
  • You're pregnant and radiation creates an unacceptable risk to your unborn child.
  • You've had a lumpectomy, but cancer is still present at the edges (margin) of the operated area and there is concern about cancer extending to elsewhere in the breast.
  • You carry a gene mutation that gives you a high risk of developing a second cancer in your breast.
  • You have a large tumor relative to the overall size of your breast. You may not have enough healthy tissue left after a lumpectomy to achieve an acceptable cosmetic result.
  • You have a connective tissue disease, such as scleroderma or lupus, and may not tolerate the side effects of radiation to the skin.


This month as we attempt to explain the mastectomy journey in small, digestible segments, we invite you to join us for our series of interviews and IG lives for the month of October.


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As always, we encourage you to sign up for our FREE Breast Check Reminder service. A monthly reminder in your inbox and via text to get your hands on your girls.


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