Mastectomy: all you need to know

What is Mastectomy?

Mastectomy is the medical procedure, which includes removal of the whole breast, or certain breast tissues. There are five different types of mastectomy: 

  • Simple or total mastectomy: This surgery involves removal of the entire breast. This process doesn’t involve removal of lymph nodes. However, sometimes if the lymph nodes are located within the breast tissues taken during surgery, they are removed. No muscles are removed from beneath the breast.

  • Modified radical mastectomy: This surgery involves the removal of both the breast tissue and lymph nodes. The entire breast is removed followed by Axillary lymph node dissection (levels I and II of underarm lymph nodes are removed). No muscles are removed from beneath the breast.

  • Radical mastectomy: Surgery involves removal of the entire breast. Levels I, II, and III of the underarm lymph nodes are removed. The surgeon also removes the chest wall muscles under the breast

  • Partial mastectomy: Partial mastectomy involves removal of the cancerous part of the breast tissue and some normal tissue around it. While lumpectomy is technically a form of partial mastectomy, more tissue is removed in partial mastectomy than in lumpectomy. 

  • Subcutaneous (nipple-sparing) mastectomy: During nipple-sparing mastectomy, all of the breast tissue is removed, but the nipple is left alone.


Body image issues:

Other than emotional stress, which cancer and its treatment causes, many women also find themselves coping with changes in their appearance as a result of this treatment. In cases of breast cancer, one can opt for reconstructive surgery to rebuild the breast mound or wear a breast form or prosthesis. 

At this time, the role of the romantic partner is extremely crucial; especially because women going through mastectomy often experience body image issues: guilt, shame and often a sense of incompletion. The partner needs to be receptive to emotional struggles at this time. The rest of the family also needs to be as supportive and emotionally available as possible. 

There are also many support groups available. Several women have pointed out that spending time doing what they enjoy, helped them maintain a positive attitude.

In many cases mastectomy isn’t necessary:

It is said that almost 70% women do not need a mastectomy; however they still get it done. There are various reasons for that the most important being fear. Many a time, the decision to undergo mastectomy is fueled by the fear that the cancer might recur, or may spread to the other breast.

Technology is also responsible for the high numbers of mastectomy cases. More women prefer getting an MRI of the breast, both as a way to screen for breast cancer and to give doctors a better picture of the tumours. These images are refined enough to pick up the tiniest of lesions, including those that may not need treatment, creating an unnecessary panic even if the tumour might be benign and  does not require treatment. It is therefore necessary to make decisions solely based on your own situation, following adequate research on mastectomy and its aftermath.

Celebrities who’ve had mastectomies: 

  • Angelina Jolie- Doctors estimated that she had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. “I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy. I started with the breasts, as my risk of breast cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex.” Jolie speaks about the importance of a partner during this phase. “So to anyone who has a wife or girlfriend going through this, know that you are a very important part of the transition” 

  • Sharon Osbourne- Osbourne told Hello! Magazine. "As soon as I found out I had the breast cancer gene, I thought, 'The odds are not in my favor, I've had cancer before, and I didn't want to live under that cloud. I decided to just take everything off, and had a double mastectomy.”

About the Author

WHL Staff

The WHL staff comprises a group of ladies out to give you exhaustive, practical health tips and resources.