This surgery is the most recommended breast cancer treatment . There are two types
of mastectomy:

  • Partial (also known as lumpectomy, breast-conserving surgery, excisional biopsy or quadrantectomy)

And

  • Total (full removal of the breast, also known as modified radical mastectomy)


Most patients undergo some form of this surgery, which removes cancer cells and makes for clear resection margins. In other words, the surgeon removes not only the tumor but also some of the surrounding tissue. This can maximize chances of eliminating all the cancer cells. Then, this tissue is analyzed for cancer cells. Absence of malignant cells in this tissue indicates that the cancer has been removed and points towards a good prognosis. During a total or partial mastectomy, surgeons also perform a biopsy on the sentinel or axillary lymph nodes to examine whether the disease has spread to the lymphatic system or other organs.

Whenever possible, surgeons try to preserve the breast by prioritizing lumpectomy. Surgery may be combined with neoadjuvant chemotherapy, which may decrease the size of a large tumor before surgery, or adjuvant chemotherapy, which may improve the effectiveness of the overall treatment.

Following the surgery, women may experience some side effects such as lymphedema, pain or numbness in the arm or shoulder, and diminished self-esteem stemming from changes to their body.

Research is underway to develop techniques (such as intraoperative frozen section consultation) to avoid a total mastectomy and perform a partial one instead.

Infographic about mastectomy surgery for breast cancer
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