Mastectomy Breast Surgery


Learning you may need a mastectomy to treat your breast cancer can be tough emotionally. Although it’s natural to feel overwhelmed, remember that mastectomies are lifesaving. At Mercy, we provide the expertise and support you need for the journey ahead. And your breast cancer Nurse Navigator will guide you every step of the way.

What is a Mastectomy?

Mastectomy also referred to as breast removal surgery is the surgical removal of a breast. It’s a treatment option for many types of breast cancers, including DCIS (noninvasive), stages I and II (early-stage), stage III (locally advanced), inflammatory and locally recurrent cancers. In some cases, preventive (prophylactic) mastectomy is performed for people with a high risk of developing breast cancer in the future.

Mercy surgeons perform several different types of mastectomy. Each type uses specific techniques and removes different breast tissues. Your Mercy surgeon personalizes your treatment from among these options, helping you decide on the best approach for your unique situation. 

Simple (Total) Mastectomy

In a simple mastectomy, the entire breast is removed, including the nipple, areola and excess skin to have a smooth surface across the chest wall. Lymph nodes may be removed if they’re located within the tissue taken. Muscles beneath the breast aren’t removed.

Double (Bilateral) Mastectomy

Removing both breasts is called a double (bilateral) mastectomy. It may be done as part of a breast cancer treatment plan or as a preventive measure for people with high breast cancer risk.

Skin-Sparing Mastectomy

A skin-sparing mastectomy procedure leaves most of the skin over the breast intact. The breast tissue, areola and nipple are removed. It results in less scar tissue and can make reconstruction more natural-looking. But it’s not typically used for large tumors or those close to the skin surface. 

Nipple-Sparing Mastectomy

During a nipple-sparing mastectomy, your surgeon removes the breast tissue but leaves your skin and nipple intact, checking them first for cancer cells. This procedure works best for small, early-stage breast cancers and preventive mastectomies.

Modified Radical Mastectomy

Similar to a simple mastectomy, a modified radical mastectomy removes the entire breast, including the skin, tissue, areola and nipple. The lymph nodes under your arm are also removed (axillary lymph node dissection).

Radical Mastectomy

This is the most extensive mastectomy surgery. During a radical mastectomy, your surgeon removes the entire breast, the muscles under the breast and the lymph nodes under your arm. It’s rarely performed unless large tumors grow into the chest wall.

Preventive (Prophylactic) Mastectomy

Removing both breasts to reduce high-risk breast cancer is called preventive (prophylactic) mastectomy. Most women who choose this procedure carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation or have other factors that greatly increase their breast cancer risk.

Mastectomy Recovery

After your mastectomy, you’ll be moved to the recovery room. Your vital signs will be monitored to make sure you’re stable after surgery.

The hospital stay after a mastectomy is typically an overnight stay —longer if you also had breast reconstruction.

Post Mastectomy Care

Your Mercy surgeon will give you instructions for recovering at home. These may include:


  • Managing post-mastectomy pain - your surgeon will talk with you about prescription pain medication and how often to take it.
  • Caring for bandage (dressing) - you’ll learn how to care for the mastectomy bandage before your first follow-up visit with your doctor.
  • Caring for surgical drains - you may have drains in your breast or armpit after a mastectomy. Sometimes they’re removed before you go home, or they may stay in until your first follow-up visit. If you’ll have drains at home, your caregivers will explain how to empty the detachable bulb as needed.
  • Removal of staples or stitches (if needed) - some stitches are absorbable and don’t need to be removed. Surgical staples are usually removed at your first follow-up visit.
  • Recognizing signs of lymphedema or infection - if you had lymph nodes removed, fluid can build up, causing lymphedema, pain and sometimes infection. Your caregivers will explain what to look for and when to call your doctor. Always let your doctor know if you have a fever or notice changes at the surgical site.
  • Arm & shoulder exercises - you may be shown exercises you can do to prevent stiffness after a mastectomy. Some exercises may need to be avoided until the drains are removed.
  • Wearing a prosthesis or sports bra - you’ll need time to recover first before wearing a prosthesis or sports bra after mastectomy surgery, especially if you had breast reconstruction. Your care team will tell you how long to wait.


Mastectomy Side Effects

As nerves regrow in the months after surgery, you might feel discomfort, itching or pressure, or be sensitive to touch. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help, and the symptoms may go away on their own.


It’s normal to experience fatigue after surgery, so be sure to get plenty of rest. And share any concerns about your recovery with your Mercy doctor.

After mastectomy, you may choose to rebuild your breast(s) with breast reconstruction surgery


If you’re considering breast reconstruction, you’ll meet with a Mercy plastic surgeon to discuss your breast reconstruction options, techniques and timing. Ask your Mercy treatment team if your breast reconstruction can be done at the time of your mastectomy. You may need (or choose) to schedule it separately.


Wearing a breast prosthesis is another option, or you may feel comfortable with your new appearance after mastectomy.

Some patients need additional breast cancer treatments after a mastectomy. These may include:



Your Mercy doctor will help you understand what to expect from these treatments.

Breast Reconstruction Consultation Videos

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