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A mastectomy is the complete removal of one or both breasts, usually in order to combat the spread of breast cancer.  Prophylactic mastectomies, those done without evidence of breast cancer, have a success rate of stopping the cancer in 90% of cases.  Most mastectomies are successful in some degree, especially when the breast cancer is detected before the carcinoma carrying cells spread to other body parts.  A "lumpectomy" is the removal of a small amount of breast tissue rather than an entire breast.  Some women who are at a high risk of breast cancer opt to have the operation even before cancer is detected.

The process for mastectomy possibility includes having a biopsy done to determine the extent of the spread of the cancer.  The tumor and surrounding tissue is taken out and the surrounding tissue is tested for cancer cells.  If the cancer is detected and has spread then mastectomy becomes a possible treatment option.  Recent advancements in breast cancer procedures have resulted in a decrease in mastectomy operations.  The success rate of the mastectomy is still a draw for many patients, however.

A bilateral prophylactic mastectomy is a double breast mastectomy, which is done even without evidence of cancer.  This type of surgery is usually performed in women who are at a very high risk of developing breast cancer, but signs of the disease have not appeared yet.  Mastectomies may also be performed if a patient has already had breast cancer and it had been taken out.  Women with past histories of breast cancer have a higher rate of developing the disease again.

Another type of mastectomy is known as "simple" or "total."  In this type of mastectomy the removal of the breast does not include removal of the lymph nodes.  Lymph nodes are located in the underarm area.  Breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body usually is detected first in the lymph nodes.  Total mastectomies occur when the evidence of cancer in the breast tissue is apparent, or may also occur for prophylactic reasons.

A radical mastectomy involves the removal of the breast and the lymph nodes.  Certain muscles under the breast are also removed in radical mastectomies.  Radical mastectomy is a severe surgery, because it involves so much tissue removal.  This type of mastectomy is performed only in rare cases where the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and other nearby areas.

Most mastectomies involve some surrounding tissue removal, usually just below the breast and near the chest wall.  Because of the severity of the surgery, it is recommended that only women who have mutated BRCA genes, women with previous breast cancer or strong family history of breast cancer, or women who have a history of lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) should undergo mastectomies. 

For women who do have a mastectomy, there are several types of reconstructive surgeries available that can help the physical problems that occur with the dramatic loss.