Mastectomy. A tough choice.

Posted on May 11th, 2009 by The LookinGood Team

Mastectomy: The surgical removal of part or the entire breast.

There are basically two reasons women choose to have a mastectomy: to rid themselves of breast cancer or as a preventative measure if they are at a high risk of developing the disease. The American Cancer Society says more than 182,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year and 43 percent will opt for a mastectomy, according to a National Cancer Institute study. Traditional mastectomies remove the entire breast, including the nipple/areola area. Three variations — skin-sparing, nipple-sparing, and total-skin sparing — make breast reconstruction easier and it is usually done immediately after the tissue is removed.

In a radical mastectomy, the surgeon will remove all the breast tissue, lymph nodes in the arm pit and chest muscle.  Once common, this surgery is now rarely performed.  A much easier, modified procedure still involves removing the breast tissue and lymph nodes, but also giving the patient the option of  immediate or delayed breast reconstruction. The surgery generally takes 2-3 hours and afterward, the patient is usually hospitalized for 1-7 days.

After-effects of the surgery include phantom sensations in the area as the nerves regrow, as well as itching and pressure. The area may also be sensitive to the touch for several months. Regular arm exercises are key to speeding the recovery and to lessening the effects of scarring.

  • Both and the American Cancer Society are vital resources for women facing breast cancer themselves or who have a family history. Both sites also offer information to help women decide on whether or not to have breast reconstruction surgery. ACS also has trained staff available around the clock to talk via its toll-free number 800-ACS-2345.

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