What Is a Simple Mastectomy?

Breast cancer arises from the cells of the breasts and can spread to other parts of the body
Breast cancer arises from the cells of the breasts and can spread to other parts of the body

Breast cancer arises from the cells of the breasts and can spread to other parts of the body (metastasis). It is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in women in the United States. Though extremely rare, breast cancer can sometimes occur in men. The survival rates in breast cancer have substantially increased due to a better understanding of the disease, an increase in awareness, technology for early detection, and more treatment options.

Breast cancer may be treated surgically and nonsurgically. Treatment may involve a combination of multiple treatment modalities, such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormonal therapy, immunotherapy, surgery, and palliative care. Based on the extent of the disease, the surgeon would recommend a treatment plan. Early diagnosis and treatment would require less invasive treatments.

A mastectomy is a surgical procedure in which all the breast tissue is removed from one or both breasts to treat or prevent breast cancer. Mastectomy may be done for women who don’t have breast cancer but have a very high risk of developing breast cancer in the future.

 There are three types of mastectomy:

  • Simple mastectomy (also called total mastectomy)
  • Skin-sparing mastectomy
  • Nipple-sparing mastectomy

Lumpectomy is a surgical procedure to remove a tumor (benign or malignant) or other abnormal tissue from the breasts. In a lumpectomy, only the affected portion of the breast is removed without removing much healthy breast tissue.

How is mastectomy performed?

The surgery is performed under general anesthesia. The surrounding lymph nodes may also be removed during a mastectomy if they are at risk of developing cancer or already infiltrated with cancer.

A simple mastectomy involves the removal of the entire breast, including the breast tissue, areola, and nipple.

A skin-sparing mastectomy involves the removal of all the breast tissue, nipple, and areola, without removing the skin of the breast skin. This may not be suitable for larger tumors that have infiltrated the skin.

A nipple-sparing mastectomy involves the removal of only the breast tissue, without removing the skin, nipple, and areola.

Breast reconstruction may be performed immediately after mastectomy or can be planned for a later time, based on the patient’s condition and preference.

After the procedure:

  • Painkillers and antibiotics would be administered
  • The dressing may be removed after 48 hours
  • Patients may be discharged on the same day or 24 to 48 hours after the surgery if there are no complications
  • Postoperative pain, swelling, and bruising is normal and usually resolves in 1 to 2 weeks
  • Patients can resume daily activities in a week after surgery
  • Complete recovery may take around 2 to 4 weeks. Recovery may take longer if breast reconstruction is also performed.


A lump in the breast is almost always cancer. See Answer

What are the complications of mastectomy?

Common complications of mastectomy include:

  • Bleeding
  • Hematoma (blood clot formation)
  • Infection
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Unsightly scarring or keloid formation at the surgical site
  • Shoulder pain
  • Numbness or decreased sensation around the incision site, which is usually temporary
  • Reaction to anesthesia

How can you detect breast cancer early?

In the early stages, there may be no symptoms of breast cancer.

One of the earliest signs are:

  • A painless lump in the breast or under the armpit.
  • The lump is firm or hard and does not move within the breast tissue (fixed to the underlying structures).
  • Self-examination by patients and regular screening in high-risk patients is advised. This allows for early diagnosis and treatment.
  • There can be swelling throughout the breast or in part of the breast without a lump being felt.
  • Cancer cells multiply fast and spread quickly. Hence, the lump quickly increases in size, involves surrounding structures, including the skin, and spreads to the rest of the body.

Other signs and symptoms of breast cancer are:

  • The reddish appearance of affected breast skin with dimpling of the skin, which is similar to an orange peel
  • Changes in the shape of the breast
  • The nipple, if involved, gets retracted and pulled inwards, having an inverted appearance
  • Discharge or bleeding through the nipple
  • Peeling, crusting, and flaking the areola (pigmented skin around the nipple) or breast skin
  • Enlarged lymph nodes, felt as lumps in the armpit, groin, neck, and other areas

What are the causes of breast cancer?

The exact cause of breast cancer has not been determined. Researchers have found that several factors increase the risk of breast cancer. It could either be a single risk factor or a combination of risk factors causing breast cancer. Some common risk factors that have been identified to cause breast cancer are: