Removing the breast (mastectomy)

Surgery is one of the main treatments for breast cancer. Sometimes your surgeon may recommend having the whole breast removed (mastectomy).

What is a mastectomy?

Breast surgeons usually aim to do an operation that means you can keep your breast (breast-conserving surgery). But sometimes they may recommend a mastectomy. This may be when:

  • the lump is large compared to the rest of your breast
  • there is cancer in different parts of the breast (called multifocal breast cancer)
  • there is widespread DCIS in the breast
  • you have had radiotherapy to the chest before to treat another cancer, such as a previous breast cancer or Hodgkin lymphoma
  • you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer.

Some women choose to have a mastectomy, if it feels like the right type of surgery for them. The treatment options you have depend on whether you have invasive breast cancer or DCIS.

Breast reconstruction

If you are having a mastectomy, your surgeon will usually ask if you want a new breast shape made at the same time. This is called immediate breast reconstruction.

You can choose to delay breast reconstruction until after you have finished radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Women may also decide to have reconstruction years after their treatment finishes.

You may decide that you do not want to have breast reconstruction. It is important to do what is right for you. You can discuss it with your surgeon and breast care nurse. 

Breast reconstruction may not be suitable for some women. This may be because of other medical conditions. These conditions might increase their risk of complications during and after surgery.

If you think you might want breast reconstruction in the future, talk to your surgeon about this before you have a mastectomy. You do not have to make a definite decision at this point, but it will help the surgeon to plan your mastectomy.

You may be able to talk to a surgeon who specialises in breast cancer and plastic surgery before your operation. They can talk you through your options for reconstruction.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our breast cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    European Society for Medical Oncology. Primary breast cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of oncology 26 (supplement 5): v8–v30. 2015.

    Morrow M, et al. Chapter 79: malignant tumors of the breast. DeVita, Hellman and Rosenberg’s cancer: principals and practice of oncology (10th edition). Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. 2014.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Early and locally advanced breast cancer: diagnosis and management. July 2018.

    Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network. SIGN 134. Treatment of primary breast cancer: a national clinical guideline. September 2013.


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Rebecca Roylance, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.