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The Language of Mastectomy

Learning about mastectomy can be confusing. Here’s a quick guide to the different types of mastectomy and when they are used.

Unilateral mastectomy: Removal of one breast.

Bilateral mastectomy: Removal of both breasts.

Prophylactic mastectomy: Removal of healthy breasts to reduce breast cancer risk.

Modified radical mastectomy: Now the most commonly performed mastectomy, similar to a total mastectomy (see below), but also includes removal of some underarm lymph nodes. Usually performed when invasive cancer is diagnosed.

Radical mastectomy: Once the only treatment for any breast cancer, this procedure removed breast tissue, lymph nodes, and skin, as well as the chest muscle. This procedure is now used only when cancer has spread to the chest muscle.

Total or simple mastectomy: Removes breast tissue, nipple, areola, and some skin around the incision. No lymph nodes are removed. This procedure is appropriate for prophylactic mastectomy or when noninvasive cancer is found in more than one quadrant of the breast.

Skin-sparing mastectomy: Removes the nipple and areola and most breast tissue, but the rest of the breast skin is left intact to accommodate immediate reconstruction.

Nipple-sparing mastectomy: A type of skin-sparing mastectomy that leaves a woman’s natural nipples intact (if they are free of cancerous cells). This procedure leaves more tissue behind than a skin-sparing mastectomy. Most or all nipple sensation is usually lost.

Subcutaneous mastectomy: A type of nipple-sparing mastectomy performed through an incision under the breast. This procedure leaves more breast tissue behind than a nipple-sparing mastectomy.

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