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What does a mastectomy operation involve?

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Quick Answer

A mastectomy involves surgically removing the breast while under general anesthesia to treat or prevent breast cancer, according to Mayo Clinic. The surgeon makes an elliptical incision to remove the breast tissue. The mastectomy surgery may involve removing one or both breasts and sometimes includes the removal of lymph nodes. Some types of mastectomy surgeries leave behind some of the skin or the nipple for reconstructive surgery.

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Full Answer

The mastectomy surgery generally takes between one and three hours if reconstructive surgery doesn't take place at the same time, notes Mayo Clinic. If the patient has a double mastectomy or has reconstructive surgery done at the same time, the surgery takes longer. Some patients go home the same day, but many recover for a day or longer at the hospital.

The surgeon removes the entire breast in a simple or total mastectomy, says the American Cancer Society. The modified radical mastectomy involves removing all the breast tissue and the axillary lymph nodes under the arms. A skin-sparing mastectomy leaves behind most of the skin covering the breast for use in reconstructive surgery, which usually happens right away. In a nipple-saving mastectomy, the nipple remains in addition to the skin.

The type of mastectomy depends on a variety of factors, including the size of the tumors, the location of tumors and the treatment plan, according to the American Cancer Society. A nipple-sparing mastectomy is usually only performed when the patient has small, early-stage tumors located away from the nipple, for example.

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