Mastectomy is a surgery performed to treat or prevent breast cancer by removing the breast tissue. Simple or total mastectomy involves the removal of the entire breast tissue (along with the areola and nipples), but the lymph nodes and muscles are left intact. Simple mastectomy is indicated when the cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes, for cancer prevention, patients with ductal carcinoma in situ (noninvasive breast cancer), Paget's disease of the breast (rare cancer in the skin of or surrounding the nipple) and recurrent breast cancer.
The procedure is performed under general anesthesia. The surgeon removes the entire breast through a 6 to 7-inch long elliptical cut starting from the inside of the breast, close to the breast bone, and continuing up and out (straight or obliquely) toward the armpit. The surgeon then inserts surgical drains (tubes to collect excess fluid) and closes the incision. As with any surgery, mastectomy also involves certain risks and complications which include infection, bleeding, pain, swelling in your arm, hard scar tissue formation at the site of surgery, shoulder pain and stiffness, numbness (especially under your arm) and accumulation of blood in the surgical site.
If you choose to rebuild your breasts after mastectomy, your plastic surgeon will perform a surgery called breast reconstruction. During reconstruction, your surgeon creates a breast mound using an implant or tissue flap taken from your stomach, thighs, back, or buttocks. The reconstructive surgery can be done during or after mastectomy.