What is total breast removal?
Total breast removal, also known as a mastectomy, is a procedure used to treat or prevent breast cancer. It can be beneficial for those with early-stage breast cancer. This is because removal of the whole breast tissue will remove any cancerous tissue present that may not be causing any symptoms now, but will have an effect in the future.
You should also be aware that there are newer mastectomy techniques that will preserve your breast skin and even allow for a more natural appearance of your breast.
Why would I get this?
Mastectomy is done for 2 reasons: either you already have breast cancer or you are a person at very high risk. High-risk people are those with a strong family of breast cancer. Consult your physician to understand your risk for developing breast cancer.
Women with any of the following conditions can be a good candidate for the procedure:
- Paget’s disease of the breast
- DCIS - Ductal carcinoma in situ
- Early breast cancer (Stage I, II)
- Locally advanced breast cancer (Stage III)
- Recurrent breast cancer
Mastectomy for breast cancer prevention
This is called prophylactic mastectomy. This option is best for you if you have a history of breast cancer running in your family.
Your doctor, through genetic testing, can figure out your risk for developing breast cancer. Prophylactic mastectomy can prevent breast cancer by 85% to 100%.
What happens during the surgery?
The procedure is usually done using general anesthesia. General anesthesia means that you will be sleeping during the procedure and won’t feel or remember anything. The surgeon will start the procedure by making an elliptical incision around your breast and then the breast tissue is removed. How much is removed and if the surgeon will remove other surrounding structures depends on the specific procedure and your disease stage.
If you are intending to have breast reconstruction at the same time, expect that the procedure will take a longer time. Your plastic surgeon will collaborate with your breast surgeon during the time of the procedure.
Once breast tissue and lymph nodes are removed, your surgeon will send them to the lab to be analyzed by a pathologist to detect cancer if present.
When the surgeon completes the removal of breast tissue, incisions are closed with sutures that will be removed later or may dissolve. You will also have draining plastic tubes in your breast. They will drain any fluid that accumulates after the procedure.
What to expect after the procedure?
This all depends on what type of surgery you had and how big was the procedure. In general, expect to stay for one day in the hospital. Within three to four weeks, you most likely will be able to do all your regular daily activities.
Numbness, pinching sensation, and pain are all expected after the procedure. You will be prescribed antibiotics and pain killers to avoid complications. Also, your surgeon will give you instructions on how to deal with that pain and what to expect in the next few days. You will also receive some instructions regarding your activity restrictions because you won’t be able to do all your regular activities right away after the procedure.
Mastectomy is a part of your breast cancer treatment plan. Some patients, in addition to mastectomy, require radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy. You may refer to a radiation oncologist or a medical oncologist to discuss possible treatments available and if you need any of them.
You should immediately consult your doctor if you have redness, swelling, warmth, pus, or fever following the procedure. These things may indicate infection at the surgical site.
Cleveland Clinic: Mastectomy (Breast Removal)
Mayo Clinic: Mastectomy