What is a radical mastectomy?

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Most of us understand the term mastectomy as the procedure of removing breast tissue either as part of cancer treatment or to prevent cancer. But there are actually several types of mastectomy that fall under this umbrella.

The most drastic of these procedures is the radical mastectomy. It was once prevalent, but today, oncologists only recommend it in certain circumstances.

What is a radical mastectomy, and how does it differ from other types of breast removal? We explain in detail below.

What is a Radical Mastectomy?

A radical mastectomy is a breast cancer treatment. Unlike other types of mastectomies, it’s not a preventative procedure.

When you have a radical mastectomy, your remove not only the breast tissue but also your chest muscles and underarm lymph nodes.

As a result, oncologists only include it as a course of treatment when breast cancer spreads from the breast tissue into your chest muscles.

However, in the past, health care providers used it as a more traditional type of mastectomy.

There is also a second type of radical mastectomy: the modified radical mastectomy. In this procedure, the surgeon removes your breast and the majority of your auxiliary lymph nodes. However, they spare your chest muscles.

How Do Radical Mastectomies Differ from Simple Mastectomies?

As treatments and understanding of breast cancer have evolved, doctors now focus on trying to be more conservative regarding the breast tissue they remove.

A simple mastectomy differs from both types of radical procedures because it focuses on removing the breast tissue (including the areola, nipple, and skin). Still, it leaves some of the lymph nodes behind, particularly the ones underneath your arm.

These procedures are available to you if your breast cancer remains contained within your breast tissue.

What is the Most Conservative Breast Cancer Treatment?

In terms of tissue removed, the list of breast cancer treatments falls in the following order (from most tissue lost to least):

  1. Radical mastectomy
  2. Modified radical mastectomy
  3. Simple mastectomy
  4. Lumpectomy

A lumpectomy is the most conservative of the treatments because you don’t lose your breast.

Instead, a surgeon removes the tumor and a portion of the surrounding tissue. It’s also known as breast-conserving surgery (or wide local excision).

Lumpectomies are more often used in very early-stage breast cancer when the doctor confirms that the cancer cells are very localized. You may have a lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy.

However, lumpectomies are also used as a diagnostic tool (excisional biopsy). Your care provider may use the procedure to…
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