While some worry that leaving the nipple intact can put women at greater risk of relapse, new research found that not to be the case at all
For women who must undergo mastectomy, a procedure sparing the nipple may make breast reconstruction look more natural. This is important since a woman's body image can suffer after the ordeal of breast removal. And even better, the surgery does not appear to risk relapse any more than conventional mastectomy.
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Researchers followed 162 women who had a special type of mastectomy called nipple-sparing mastectomy (NSM), which removes the breast tissue, but leaves the nipple and surrounding areola intact. The women underwent the surgery either to treat breast cancer or to prevent it -- some women without cancer opt for mastectomy because they have a family history or a specific genetic profile that puts them at very high risk.
In the women who underwent NSM, none had recurrence of the cancer and no new cancers grew.
The concern with NSM is that by leaving the nipple, it is possible to miss cancer cells, which could hide under the nipple. In this case, the risk of relapse of breast cancer could be relatively higher. But the researchers did not find this to be the case at all. However, author Scott Spear, who is professor of plastic surgery at the Georgetown University Hospital, where the study took place, cautions that the "nipple-sparing technique is not appropriate for every patient depending upon their anatomy and type of breast pathology. Careful selection of the right patient for NSM is an important element of success."