The purpose of removing the breast by surgery is to elliminate cancer that has developed at breast level – removing malignant breast tumour(s). Sometimes mastectomy can be performed after a lumpectomy (a surgical intervention by which only the tumour and the surrounding tissue is removed) and cancer is still developing. Also, on some patients, for example on women who have cancer but are also pregnant or have lupus, classic treatments such as radiation therapy cannot be applied so mastectomy is among the few treatment options avaliable.
Mastectomy can be performed as a measure to prevent cancer, if the risk of developing breast cancer is known to be very high.
Sometimes the breast tumour is very large in size and the patient has to undergo chemotherapy also before the surgery is performed. This helps because it leads to diminishing the size of the tumour.
As in any surgery, there is a certain risk of post-operatory bleeding and infection. A significant percent of women who have undergone mastectomy have also experienced chronic pain, arm swelling, shoulder pain, hematoma, a general feeling of discomfort in the area of the arm or shoulder.
Bleeding and infection at the surgical site are potential risks of mastectomy, as with any surgery. Between 20 and 60 percent of women experience chronic pain following mastectomy, called post-mastectomy pain syndrome. Symptoms include chest wall pain and tingling down your arm. You may also experience pain or itching in your shoulder, armpit or surgical scar. Also, psychologically, this type of surgery has its toll.
After the surgery and recovery, the patient can consult the doctor about the possibility of breast reconstruction. This can be done by implants, using skin and muscle graphs or a combination of the two. Sometimes, the mastectomy and the reconstruction surgery can be performed during the same intervention.
There are different types of mastectomy: modified radical mastectomy, which means that the entire breast is removed, sometimes even a part of the chest wall and muscles and lymphatic nodes in the area; simple mastectomy, which means only complete breast removal; skin-sparing mastectomy, which means that all but the breast skin is removed, thus allowing reconstructive surgery to be immediately performed; subcutaneous mastectomy is a procedure that implies removal of breast tissue, leaving the nipple, areola, muscles and lymphatic nodes in place.
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