Definition and Overview

Breast surgery is an umbrella term that refers to any procedure performed on the breast either as a form of treatment for various diseases or for aesthetic purposes.

The most common types of breast surgery are the following:

  • Augmentation mammoplasty (breast implants). This type of breast surgery aims to alter the form, size, and texture of the breasts. Mainly considered as a cosmetic surgical procedure, augmentation mammoplasty is taken advantage of to reconstruct the form of the breasts after a mastectomy or to correct congenital deformities and defects in the chest wall. It is also typically sought for by male-to-female transsexuals.

  • Mastectomy. Derived from the Greek word that translates to “cutting out the breast,” mastectomy is a surgical procedure that involves the partial or complete removal of one or both breasts. This is usually prescribed as a treatment for breast cancer patients or as a preventive measure for individuals who at high risk of developing the disease.

  • Lumpectomy. Also known as tylectomy, lumpectomy is a surgical procedure that is performed to remove a lump in the breast. Although not very different from mastectomy, it is considered as a separate category as it involves the removal of a small portion of the breast, as a form of treatment for breast cancer or malignant tumors. Many medical professionals consider a lumpectomy as a more desirable form of breast conservation therapy, as it does not involve the removal of a significant amount of tissues, like in a mastectomy. Research suggests that a lumpectomy might be more emotionally and physically advantageous than other types of “disfiguring” surgeries recommended for breast cancer. Lumpectomy can also be prescribed for other conditions, such as invasive ductal carcinoma and DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ), a type of breast cancer that only affects the lining of the milk ducts in female patients.

  • Mastopexy. This is a procedure where breasts are modified and corrected in terms of elevation, size, and contour. Commonly known as breast lift, it aims to restore the aesthetic appearance and proportion of the female breasts.

  • Breast abscess removal. This procedure is performed when a painful collection of pus forms in the breast, which is usually a complication of mastitis or breast inflammation. These are removed through the use of fine-needle aspiration (guided by ultrasound) or by surgically incising and draining the affected area.

  • Breast biopsy. This is the extraction and examination of tissues removed from a patient’s breasts. This procedure is usually performed to diagnose the cause, presence, or extent of breast-related diseases. There are many techniques under this category, including fine-needle aspiration (FNA), core needle biopsy, vacuum-assisted biopsy, open surgical biopsy, and direct and frontal biopsy.

  • Removal of lactiferous ducts. Research shows that many breast diseases are closely related to or originate from lactiferous ducts. Medical professionals recommend surgical removal of the lactiferous ducts to women who are at risk of developing various breast diseases.

  • Reduction mammoplasty. This surgical procedure, which is typically aesthetic in nature, aims to reduce the size of large breasts in both male and female patients. It is highly important for surgeons performing this procedure to re-establish a functional and proportionate bust in female patients, with special consideration to the tissue viability of the critical area of the nipple-areola complex. In male patients suffering from gynecomastia, the enlarged breasts are corrected in a less complicated technique as there are no lactation functions of the breasts to be considered.

When Should You See a Breast Specialist?

There are many reasons to see a breast specialist, especially when the breasts hurt for a prolonged period of time, when a lump is felt, when nipple discharge in non-lactating patients is observed, if there is a history of breast diseases in the family, or if the patient’s lifestyle and habits put him or her at a high risk of having breast diseases.

Breast specialists are medical professionals like licensed doctors or board-certified nurses who have devoted their career to the study and treatment of breast diseases. They can order an ultrasound or a mammogram to determine the root cause of the symptoms or determine the probability of the occurrence of breast diseases. These specialists deal with all kinds of breast issues -- from breast pain to unexplained nipple discharge and they are typically part of a women’s health program or are working at reputable hospitals.

If you suspect breast cancer, consulting a breast specialist who can either confirm or rule out the possibility of the disease, is crucial.

References:

  • Essentials of Breast Surgery, Elsevier Health Sciences
  • Breast Pathology: Expert Consult, Elsevier Health Services
  • Lymphedema: A Breast Cancer Patient’s Guide to Prevention and Healing, Hunter House
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