Oncologic safety of conservative mastectomy in the therapeutic setting

John R. Benson, Dorin Dumitru, Charles M. Malata


Conservative mastectomy is a form of nipple-sparing mastectomy which is emerging as a surgical option for selected breast cancer patients. This technique differs from subcutaneous mastectomy which is well established as a technique for risk reduction but leaves behind a finite remnant of retro-areolar breast tissue. Clinical trials have confirmed the efficacy and safety of breast conservation therapy for smaller localised breast tumors whereby a variable amount of surrounding normal tissue is excised with administration of breast radiotherapy post-operatively. Conservative mastectomy aims to remove all breast tissue with dissection continued into the core of the nipple. However, the indication for conservative mastectomy remains to be defined but generally includes tumors of modest size located at least 2 cm away from the nipple. Patients undergoing conservative mastectomy do not necessarily receive adjuvant radiotherapy and this may only be intra-operative irradiation of the nipple-areola complex (NAC). Preservation of the NAC as part of a skin-sparing mastectomy in patients who might otherwise require standard mastectomy is of unproven safety from an oncologic perspective but is associated with enhanced cosmetic outcomes and quality-of-life. The advent of conservative mastectomy has coincided with a trend for “maximal surgery” with bilateral extirpation of all breast tissue in conjunction with immediate breast reconstruction. It is essential there is no compromise of local recurrence and survival in terms of ipsilateral breast cancer treatment. Further studies are required to clarify the indications for conservative mastectomy and confirm oncologic equivalence to either wide local excision and breast irradiation or conventional/skin-sparing mastectomy with sacrifice of the nipple areola complex.