Mastectomy is the most common treatment for breast cancer today. As recently as 15 years ago, many doctors considered radical mastectomy the only procedure. It removed the entire breast, the chest muscles under the breast, and all underarm lymph nodes, leaving a hollow chest area. Many women feared the treatment as much as the disease.
Thanks to medical advances, there is now a wide range of effective procedures that may be used, depending on the individual case. In addition to the radical mastectomy, also called a "Halsted radical," surgical options include:
Modified radical mastectomy -- Removes the breast and the underarm lymph nodes and the lining over the chest muscles. Sometimes the smaller of the two chest muscles is also removed. This procedure is also called a "total mastectomy with axillary (or underarm) dissection" and today is the most common treatment of early stage breast cancer.
Total or simple mastectomy -- Removes only the breast. Sometimes a few of the underarm lymph nodes closest to the breast are removed to see if the cancer has spread beyond the breast. May be followed by radiation therapy.
Partial or segmental mastectomy -- Removes the tumor plus a wedge of normal tissue surrounding it, including some skin and the lining of the chest muscle below the tumor. It is followed by radiation therapy. Many surgeons also remove some or all of the underarm lymph nodes to check for possible spread of cancer.
Lumpectomy -- Removes the breast lump and is followed by radiation therapy. Many surgeons also remove and test some of the underarm lymph nodes.