Towards the end of the 19th century, a radical form of mastectomy that removed not just a woman’s breast but also her lymph nodes and her chest wall muscles was developed by William Halstead as an effective treatment for breast cancer. Today however this highly disfiguring procedure is considered unnecessary and is rarely performed having been replaced with modified radical mastectomy or partial mastectomy.

What is modified radical mastectomy?

Since radical mastectomy was seen to be not only very disfiguring (because it left a gaping void in the chest area) but also unnecessary since it offered no additional benefit to a woman with breast cancer, a modified version of the surgery is usually performed now. The modified version of the radical mastectomy is one of the most commonly used surgical procedures used to treat operable breast cancer (that which will benefit from surgery). It is effective in cases where the breast cancer is still in the early stages but has spread to the nearby lymph nodes.

Modified-Radical-MastectomyModified radical mastectomy removes the entire breast and the nearby lymph nodes but spares one or both of the chest muscles offering a more natural looking contour to the chest. It also makes it possible for a woman to opt for breast reconstructive surgery later or at the time of her mastectomy since the surrounding tissue has been spared.

The surgical procedure is performed under general anesthesia and could take up to 4 hours to perform. It could take even longer if breast reconstruction surgery is scheduled to be performed as well.

Modified radical mastectomy recovery time

Though this is not a high-risk surgery and most women recover quite quickly from it, there are the risks that are associated with practically any type of surgery that should be considered. The risk of infection, bleeding and the possible complications resulting from general anesthesia are preset in any surgery.

Additionally there could be swelling in the arm or accumulation of fluid beneath the skin where the incision was made. To prevent this, a tube may be inserted to drain the fluid which is typically removed some days after the surgery.

Sometimes nerve damage could occur during the modified radical mastectomy which could cause some amount of numbness in the upper part of the arm. However in many cases this could resolve itself and feeling may be restored later.

Pain, stiffness, and tiredness are most commonly experienced after this procedure. Pain medication will usually be prescribed for this, and specific exercises will help to relieve the stiffness as well as prevent formation of scar tissue. It is also important to take it easy after the surgery and have help doing the things you are used to doing normally, since you will feel tired and drained afterwards.

Following a modified radical mastectomy, the option of adjuvant radiation therapy may be considered. Though the tumor has been physically excised (removed), there could be some cancer cells remaining in the surrounding tissue. Radiation is given to try and kill any such lingering or remaining cancer cells to minimize chances of the cancer returning.