A Less-Invasive Mastectomy Proves Safe for Most Women With Breast Cancer

Nipple-sparing surgery may help women avoid one of the more traumatic aspects of this breast cancer treatment.

by Lara DeSanto Health Writer

Mastectomy is one of several treatment options for breast cancer—and one of the most daunting, as it means complete removal of the breast. However, new research finds that a less-invasive version of the procedure, which leaves the surface of the breast intact, including the nipple, is actually a safe option for most women with the disease who opt for immediate reconstruction.

Nipple-sparing mastectomy is even available for patients whose breast cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or those who have risk factors for surgical complications, according to the new study from the Mayo Clinic. In fact, 97% of the cases studied were considered a success one year after surgery.

In the study, researchers reviewed the outcomes for 769 women who underwent nipple-sparing mastectomy between 2009 and 2017 (specifically, the surgery was performed on a total of 1,301 breasts). And the results offered great news: The surgery became much safer over time. Complications within 30 days of surgery dropped by more than half 6.3 percent in 2017, despite the fact that some patients had surgical-complication risk factors (like obesity or prior surgery) or had cancer that had spread to nearby lymph nodes.

“Offering enhanced aesthetics as a result of these surgeries to women who have had a devastating diagnosis is extremely rewarding,” said senior study author Tina Hieken, M.D., a breast surgeon at Mayo Clinic, in a press release. “Today, breast cancer patients who are not offered nipple-sparing procedures should ask their surgeons why. As this study shows, these surgeries are proving safe for a broad patient base.”

If you’re interested in having a nipple-sparing mastectomy, talk it over with your oncologist, plastic surgeon, and the rest of your cancer care team. Ask your team about their experience performing this procedure; you want to make sure your surgeon is well-trained in this less-invasive surgery..

And remember: It’s always helpful to get a second opinion. Your plastic surgeon should be comfortable with you seeking a second opinion, according to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Doing so can help you feel more confident in your decisions regarding mastectomy and reconstruction or provide you with a new perspective on other options.

Lara DeSanto
Meet Our Writer
Lara DeSanto

Lara is a former digital editor for HealthCentral, covering Sexual Health, Digestive Health, Head and Neck Cancer, and Gynecologic Cancers. She continues to contribute to HealthCentral while she works towards her masters in marriage and family therapy and art therapy. In a past life, she worked as the patient education editor at the American College of OB-GYNs and as a news writer/editor at WTOP.com.