There is a very nice review article of the advances in nipple-sparing mastectomy surgery in the March 2011 issue of the Aesthetic Surgery Journal (full reference below).
Dr. Patrick Maxwell and colleagues includes some history of nipple-sparing mastectomy (NSM):
NSM was attempted in the 1980s but never gained popularity owing to the controversies surrounding oncological safety. Now, better technologies for preoperative staging and assessment of lesion distance from the NAC, along with an increased understanding of the anatomy of the breast ducts with relation to the nipple, are encouraging a return to the concept. One of the key publications that renewed and increased enthusiasm for this technique was the multicenter publication of 192 patients undergoing NSM with only four recurrences, all of which occurred distant from the NAC. Recurrences were seen in the upper outer quadrant, where nearly all recurrences are found with simple mastectomies, at the junction of the tail of the breast and axillary tissue.
In recent years, there has been a sudden increase in reports of NSM for prophylaxis and cancer treatment. Of the approximately 1868 NSM procedures performed for breast cancer treatment and published in recent literature, only three local recurrences within the NAC have been reported, representing 0.16% of local events attributed to patients with NAC preservation. Note, however, that most of these studies have short follow-up periods, thus rendering definitive conclusions premature.
While NSM is not an option in all cases, it is an option that when available is worth using. No surgeon can create a nipple as lovely as the one that would be removed by the mastectomy, so if it can be used it greatly adds to the finished results.
Exclusion criteria included tumors larger than 3 cm, clinical invasion of the NAC, tumors within 2 cm from the nipple, evidence of multicentric disease, a positive intraoperative retroareolar frozen section, and nodal disease, excluding isolated immunohistochemistry positivity.
The article does a quick review of some of the techniques for NSM (photo credit, 1st reference article):
The article is worth your time to read.
1. Advances in Nipple-Sparing Mastectomy: Oncological Safety and Incision Selection; Maxwell G.P., Storm-Dickerson T, P Whitworth P, Rubano C, and Gabriel A; Aesthetic Surgery Journal March 2011 31: 310-319, doi:10.1177/1090820X11398111
2. Nipple-Sparing Mastectomy for Breast Cancer and Risk Reduction: Oncologic or Technical Problem?; Sacchini V, Pinotti JA, Barros AC, et al; J Am Coll Surg 2006;203:704-714