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Understanding a Mastectomy: Making the Right Choice for You

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

Hearing you have breast cancer is scary. You might feel lost with so many treatments out there. One of the common treatment options for breast cancer is getting a mastectomy, which means removing one or both breasts. But what does this really mean for you?

Understanding Mastectomy: Making the Right Choice for You

It's natural to feel worried or scared about surgery. What will life be like after? What are the real benefits? And what challenges will you face?

Let's break it down. A mastectomy removes the breast with cancer. You can choose to remove one breast or both, which is called either a single or double mastectomy. This might be to stop cancer from spreading or even as a way to prevent it from ever developing. We'll guide you through what to expect, the benefits, and the challenges. This way, you'll be ready and informed to choose what works best for you.

Understanding Mastectomy Options

What is a mastectomy?

A mastectomy is a surgery to remove one or both breasts. It's done when there's breast cancer or a high risk of it. There are a few different kinds to know which your doctor will discuss with you based on your specific case.

Types of mastectomies

  1. Simple or Total Mastectomy: All of the breast, including the nipple and breast skin, is removed. However, the lymph nodes under the arm(s) are not removed.

  2. Modified Radical Mastectomy: The whole breast is removed. Some lymph nodes under the arm and possibly the chest muscle lining will be removed, too.

  3. Radical Mastectomy: This type of mastectomy takes out the most. The entire breast, chest muscles, and all lymph nodes under the arm(s) are removed.

  4. Partial Mastectomy: Only the part of the breast with cancer and a bit around it is removed.

  5. Nipple-Sparing Mastectomy: The breast is removed, but the nipple is not.

Which one is right for you?

Each type has its own pros and cons. Talking through your options with your medical team will help you understand which surgical option is right for you. For example, some may feel more comfortable having only the part of the breast with cancer removed, whereas others feel too nervous not to remove all of the breast tissue. It's all about what's best for your health and how you want to feel after the surgery. Remember, your health and choices matter the most.

What is a double mastectomy?

A double mastectomy is a surgery where both breasts are removed. It's mainly done to treat or stop breast cancer.

Why choose this surgery?

  1. Cancer treatment: If cancer is found in one breast, some people choose to remove both. This will depend on the type of cancer that they are diagnosed with and if they have any genetic risk factors for breast cancer. By choosing to remove both breasts, they can lower their chance of getting cancer in the other breast.

  2. Cancer prevention: If you have a high risk of getting breast cancer, like from a family history or genetic risk factors (like BRCA1 or BRCA2), you might consider this surgery. If this is the case, it is important to discuss your risk with an oncologist to make sure the decision is best for your body.

Does getting a mastectomy guarantee no more cancer?

While this surgery can greatly lower the chance of breast cancer coming back, it doesn't guarantee that it won't. How well it works depends on things like

  • Type of cancer,

  • Overall health,

  • Genetic factors,

  • Follow up care after surgery.

Your doctors and health team will help you decide if this is right for you. They'll look at what's best for your health and what you feel comfortable with. Always ask questions and get the information you need.

Why you should make sure a mastectomy is right for you?

While both a mastectomy and a double mastectomy are incredible options for cancer treatment and prevention, it is important to know some of their adverse effects to make the right decision for you.

  1. Surgery risks: Like with any surgery, there's a chance of infection, bleeding, and issues with anesthesia.

  2. Looks and feelings: Losing one or both breasts can change how a woman sees and feels about herself. This might make her feel less confident or less connected to her femininity.

  3. Another surgery: Some women might choose another surgery to rebuild the breast. This is common to make a woman feel like herself again, but of course, with more surgeries comes more risks.

It's vital to talk with your doctors and health team. Think about what you want, how you feel, and what's best for your health. Your health and feelings are the most important.

Life after removing one or both breasts

What's life like afterward?

After a mastectomy or double mastectomy, life changes in a few ways. Both your body and mind will need time to adjust and heal.

Physical changes

  • Recovery: After the surgery, your body needs time to heal. You might feel pain or discomfort for a bit. Everyone's healing time is different.

  • Breast reconstruction: As mentioned above, some women decide to have another surgery to rebuild the breast. This can help with how you see yourself. But it's a personal choice, and not everyone goes for it. There are many, many different ways to have this surgery done, which can feel overwhelming. For more information, check out our page on breast reconstruction.

Emotional changes

  • Feelings: Many women feel different emotions. Some feel sad or even mourn the loss of their breast(s). Others may feel relieved to know that they have cut the cancer out of their bodies. There's no right or wrong way to feel.

  • Intimacy: When a woman’s body changes, it may feel harder to feel good in intimate moments with her partner. If you feel this way, talking with your partner about your feelings can be helpful. You may also be able to find new ways to feel intimate while still being comfortable.

Finding support

  • Join a group: Support groups can be great. You can meet others who've been through the same thing. They can share advice stories or just listen.

  • Programs and organizations: There are groups and programs that help women after a mastectomy. They can give you tools to feel confident and embrace your new body.

New improvements in removing one or both breasts

Why do new methods matter?

In the world of health, new ways to do mastectomies are a big deal. They help women have better experiences and results after surgery.

What's new?

  1. Saving more skin: Now, doctors can sometimes keep most of your breast skin, even the nipple. This means a more natural look if you choose reconstruction after your mastectomy.

  2. Checking fewer lymph nodes: A method called sentinel lymph node biopsy is more gentle on the body. It checks fewer lymph nodes to see if cancer has spread.

  3. Less invasive surgeries: Doctors are exploring ways to do surgeries with smaller cuts. This could mean faster healing and fewer scars.

  4. Saving more of the breast: For some, removing only the cancerous part and then having radiation might be an option instead of taking out the whole breast.

The future looks bright

  • Tailored treatment: By studying your genes, doctors can give treatments that work best for you. It's a new and personal way to fight breast cancer.

  • Understanding cancer better: Scientists are diving deep into what makes different types of breast cancer tick. The more they know, the better they can treat it.

  • Focused patient care: The journey with breast cancer isn't just physical. Doctors are working on ways to support feelings and emotions, too.

New methods in mastectomy and double mastectomy are all about making things better for women. From the surgery itself to recovery and emotional support, the future looks promising.

Women's health matters

Being well-informed about breast health, early warning signs, and treatments like mastectomies is vital. It's not just about personal health; it's about making informed decisions that can potentially save your life.

By being informed and proactive, you're playing a part in not just safeguarding your health but also helping to educate and protect others.


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Germie's mission is to create a female health network that operates as an end-to-end solution to bridge the divide between patient and professional, brought to you in an easy, digestible way.

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