Breast Reduction vs. Mastectomy

What is the difference between a breast reduction vs. mastectomy?

The medical field can be full of confusing words with different procedures that sound the same or seem like two names for the same thing. Trying to tease apart the finer points of medical terminology to understand your symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options can be confusing. A common question we get asked is, “What is the difference between a breast reduction vs. mastectomy?” Let’s dive in to unravel that mystery.

Breast Reduction vs. Mastectomy

Breast reduction vs. mastectomy are two different procedures for people in two very different situations. Still, since both involve the removal of breast tissue, the terms can get misused and cause confusion. In brief:

  • Breast Reduction is a procedure where healthy breast tissue is removed to decrease the weight of the breasts while also improving shape to provide relief from a myriad of symptoms caused by having large breasts.

– while –

  • Mastectomy is a procedure for individuals who have a cancer diagnosis or are at high risk of developing breast cancer to remove the entire breast (which can include the overlying skin, nipple, and areola) to eliminate or prevent breast cancer.

You can see how the need for a breast reduction vs. mastectomy depends on the patient’s needs and are not two interchangeable terms for the same procedure.

Case Presentations for Breast Reduction vs. Mastectomy

Now that we’re certain these are, in fact, two different procedures, let’s learn more about each one, including what makes someone a candidate for either procedure, treatment options, and insurance coverage for each.

Elements of Breast Reduction vs. Mastectomy


Breast Reduction



Individuals with:

  • Large breasts

  • Back, shoulder, or neck pain from the weight of their breasts

  • Skin conditions (e.g., chafing under the breasts)

  • Shoulder grooving from bra straps digging into your skin

  • No improvement from breast-induced injuries after trying non-surgical methods like physical therapy

  • Aesthetic reasons

  • Desire to improve quality of life

Individuals with:

  • Breast cancer diagnosis

    • In one or both breasts

  • High risk of developing breast cancer

    • Family history

    • Genetic mutations (e.g., BRCA1/2)

    • Long-term use of hormone replacement therapy

    • Radiation exposure


  • Vertical incision

  • Anchor or inverted -T incision

  • Free nipple grafting

Insurance Coverage

  • Depends on whether surgery is deemed “medically necessary” or cosmetic

Other Breast Surgeries That Add to the Confusion

Aside from breast reduction vs. mastectomy, there are other breast surgeries with similar-sounding names or procedures that add to the confusion when you’re trying to decide what treatment options are best for you. Some of the most common breast surgeries (and most often confused) are listed below.

Additional Breast Surgeries, Procedures, and Conditions



Can Be Confused With

Breast Biopsy

  • The removal of a small sample of tissue for evaluation to diagnose abnormalities.

  • Lumpectomy


  • The surgical removal of cancerous tissue growths in the breast. 

  • Usually involves removal of some amount of normal tissue around the cancerous area.

  • Breast biopsy

  • Breast reduction

  • Mastectomy


  • Breast lift procedure.

  • Lifts sagging breasts to improve firmness and shape.

  • Mastectomy

  • Mammaplasty


  • Umbrella term for any surgery used to reshape the breasts.

  • Includes: augmentation, reduction, reconstruction, and lift

  • Mastopexy

  • Mastectomy


  • The removal of breast implants for health or cosmetic reasons.

  • Breast reduction


  • The medical condition where men develop enlarged breasts.

  • Caused by hormonal imbalances, medical conditions, medications

  • Mastectomy

  • Mastopexy

  • Mammaplasty

While there are numerous procedures and conditions that sound the same or have similar descriptions, knowing your specific treatment options is important to help you feel empowered in your decision-making, provide you with the best surgical outcomes, and ensure you get the appropriate insurance coverage. Luckily, plastic surgeons like Dr. Harris are here to help educate and give advice.

Plastic Surgeon Consultations for Both Breast Reduction and Mastectomy

If you are considering a mastectomy, it’s possible the only person you knew to talk to for advice was a breast surgical oncologist. While a breast surgical oncologist is a vital part of the breast cancer treatment team, plastic surgeons can act as your initial “go-to” surgeon to discuss your options for mastectomy and reconstruction. Plastic surgeons are also experts in breast reduction and all of the other surgeries listed above.

When you’re looking for a surgeon, you don’t just want an expert in the field (although the team members at Harris Plastic Surgery are definitely experts), you also want to be surrounded by a group of support staff who can guide you through the intricacies of preparing for surgery – like scheduling, treatment coordination, and insurance/financial guidance. Consulting with a plastic surgeon can give you a centralized location for all of those components and provide you with the best aesthetic outcomes for your surgery. Beginning your treatment plan by knowing what you want from the end results can make the process smoother and less stressful.

Harris Plastic Surgery: Experts in Breast Reduction and Mastectomy Surgeries

If you need either procedure or have more questions about breast reduction vs. mastectomy, contact our office today. We have the answers to your questions and are prepared to help walk you through all the treatment components – from choosing the right surgery to getting the most from your insurance. The experts at Harris Plastic Surgery are here for you. Text us for a consultation appointment.

Bringing Patient Advocacy to Breast Reduction and Reconstruction

At Harris Plastic Surgery, every consultation includes a thorough evaluation of your Empire Plan coverage for breast reduction surgery. We take a concierge approach to treatment, which includes working to minimize your out-of-pocket costs. Contact us to schedule a consult!

Stephen U. Harris, MD FACS

Dr. Stephen U. Harris is a board-certified cosmetic surgeon and recognized expert in breast reduction and reconstruction surgeries, having performed thousands in his career. When it comes to patient care, his philosophy is that every surgery should improve his patient’s overall quality of life, not just their appearance. Dr. Harris stays up-to-date on all the latest advancements in breast augmentation, reconstruction, and reduction and is a recognized innovator in the field. In fact, he was the first surgeon at Good Samaritan Hospital to offer primary prepectoral implant breast reconstruction, as well as secondary prepectoral revision surgery.

Dr. Harris also serves as Chief of Plastic Surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip, New York and is an active staff surgeon (and former Chief of Plastic Surgery) at South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, New York.

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