Breast Cancer on the Run in October: (Day 3) Adios, Radical Mastectomy


The Radical Mastectomy procedure is a brutal, disfiguring operation. It involves removing the breast and the large, underlying pectoral (chest) muscle.  It leaves the patient with an exposed rib cage. Ghoulish. Jarring to look at.

It has gone down in medical history as an over reaction to a frightening img_0989disease. A devastating disease requiring a devastating response. There were no other alternatives. Only by today’s standards can we criticize it.

Today it is hard to imagine that this operation was the standard of care for so many years, even into the mid 1970s. Equally as hard to grasp were the grateful sentiments of breast cancer patients written to their surgeons who performed this operation decades ago. These are detailed in the excellent book by Siddhartha Mukerjee, MD, entitled The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.

Whether or not it is fair to judge this operation by standards in play today, its ultimate rejection by the surgical community marks the beginning of the end for radical surgery to treat breast cancer. Every surgical advance since then has proven that we can do less and less surgery without compromising survival.

As breast cancer surgeons, we’ve learned that less is more.

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