Risk-reducing breast surgery - terms explained
Bilateral risk-reducing mastectomy (also called bilateral prophylactic mastectomy) is the surgical removal of both breasts to help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. It’s different from a mastectomy that’s carried out as part of cancer treatment. Bilateral risk-reducing surgery is carried out even though there is no evidence of cancer in the breasts.
The breasts are made up of fat, supportive (connective) tissue and glandular tissue that contains lobes. The lobes (milk glands) are where breast milk is produced. These are connected to the nipple by a network of milk ducts.
Under the skin, an area of breast tissue extends into the armpit (axilla). The armpits also contain a collection of lymph nodes (glands), which are part of the lymphatic system.
There are also lymph nodes just beside the breastbone (internal mammary lymph nodes) and behind the collarbone.
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Women with a strong family history of breast cancer and who have cancer in one breast sometimes decide to have the other breast removed to reduce the chance of getting breast cancer again. This is called contralateral mastectomy.
We have more information about the different types of surgery that might be used to treat breast cancer.
Risk-reducing mastectomy can usually be followed by breast reconstruction (the formation of new breast shapes). This can be done either during the same operation (immediate reconstruction) or at a later date (delayed reconstruction).
This is optional – not everyone who decides to have risk-reducing mastectomy will want to have breast reconstruction.