What is a Modified Radical Mastectomy?

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  • Written By: Eric Stolze
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2019
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A modified radical mastectomy is a surgical procedure in which a surgeon usually removes a breast cancer patient’s entire breast, including the nipple, areola and skin of the breast. Tissue that lines the muscles of the breast area and portions of lymph nodes near the armpit are typically removed during a modified radical mastectomy. Physicians may recommend this type of surgical procedure for some women who have large tumors, especially if the lymph nodes are affected. Some physicians address breast cancer patients with other forms of treatment in addition to breast surgery. Women may undergo other types of mastectomy surgery instead of a modified radical mastectomy.

In most cases, a modified radical mastectomy procedure takes between two and four hours. A surgeon typically makes one incision across half of a patient’s chest and removes breast and lymph node tissues. Small drainage tubes are usually placed in the area of the breast where surgery was performed in order to drain fluid into an attached suction device, and the tubes are often removed about a week after surgery. Physicians may perform breast reconstruction during a modified radical mastectomy procedure using artificial implants or portions of body tissue. Some patients choose to delay breast reconstruction until a later date.


Patients who experience pain after breast surgery may receive a prescription for pain medication. Some women develop upper arm numbness if small nerves near the lymph nodes are cut during surgery. Many female patients experience fatigue after a modified radical mastectomy and may benefit from a reduced schedule of physical activity for two weeks following surgery. In some cases, doctors also prescribe chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Physicians also use other types of mastectomy surgery to treat some women with breast cancer. A radical mastectomy may be performed in cases where cancer has spread to the muscles of the chest wall. Radical mastectomies generally include the removal of chest muscles and all underarm lymph nodes near the affected breast as well as the removal of the entire breast. A total mastectomy typically includes removal of an entire breast and a biopsy of nearby lymph nodes. Subcutaneous mastectomies usually include removal of breast tissue while keeping breast skin, areola and nipple tissue intact for breast reconstruction.

Some breast surgery patients experience internal bleeding in an area where a breast was removed. The chest wall may develop long-term wounds from mastectomy surgery in some cases. Shoulder pain and arm swelling can occur in patients who had lymph nodes removed during breast surgery. Blood clots, post surgical infection and abnormal loss of blood have been reported by some breast surgery patients.


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