Having risk-reducing breast surgery

Risk-reducing breast surgery is an operation to remove as much of the breast tissue as possible. The operation takes 2–3 hours, or longer if you have breast reconstruction at the same time.

There are different types of surgery. Your breast surgeon will discuss these with you.

  • Total mastectomy or simple mastectomy – The breast tissue, nipple, skin around the nipple and about half the skin covering the breasts are removed.
  • Skin-saving mastectomy – The breast tissue is removed but not the skin covering the breasts. Many women have this type of surgery.
  • Nipple-sparing mastectomy – The breast tissue is removed but not the skin, nipple and skin around the nipple. Keeping the nipple can mean a small amount of breast tissue is left behind, but most surgeons think this is safe.

After the operation, samples of your breast tissue will be examined for any changes in the cells that might be the early stages of cancer. If any cancerous changes are found, your doctors will talk to you about any treatment you might need.

The breasts

Breasts are made up of fat, supportive (connective) tissue and glandular tissue containing lobes. The lobes (milk glands) are where breast milk is made. They connect to the nipple by a network of fine tubes called ducts.

Breast side view
Breast side view

View a large version

Read a description of this image


About risk-reducing breast surgery

Risk-reducing mastectomy is major surgery involving a general anaesthetic. During the operation the surgeon removes the entire breast with or without the skin and/or nipple. The lymph nodes and underlying muscles of the breast are not removed.

Bilateral risk-reducing mastectomy without reconstruction takes about two to three hours. The operation takes longer if it includes breast reconstruction.


Tests on the removed breast tissue

After your surgery, samples of the breast tissue that has been removed are sent to a laboratory and examined under a microscope. This is to see if there are any changes in the cells that might be the early stages of cancer. If any cancerous changes are found your doctors will talk to you about any treatment you might need.

Back to Risk-reducing breast surgery

Making your decision

Give yourself plenty of time to think about the benefits and disadvantages of risk-reducing breast surgery, before you make a decision.

What happens after surgery?

Recovery can take some time after risk-reducing breast surgery. It will depend on the type of surgery you have had.