A mastectomy is surgery to remove the entire breast that has cancer. A mastectomy is likely to be recommended if the breast cancer is too big, is located in the center of the breast, is large relative to the size of the breast, or is located in multiple different areas of the breast.
If a woman has to have a mastectomy, she can consider wearing a breast prosthesis in her bra, undergoing breast reconstruction surgery or neither one. Breast reconstruction surgery is performed to create a new breast using either implants or tissue from another area of the body.
The one benefit of a mastectomy is that most patients with early stage breast cancer do not require radiation. However with larger tumors, or if multiple lymph nodes are involved, patients need radiation treatment in addition to the mastectomy to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.
A mastectomy also typically includes a sentinel lymph node biopsy, in which the surgeon identifies and removes the sentinel lymph node (or first lymph node the cancer is likely to spread to) to determine whether or not cancer has spread.
It is important to understand that there is no difference in survival with a mastectomy or lumpectomy. This is why patients are frequently given the choice, and they can decide which option suits them best. As noted above, there are instances where mastectomy is the only option.