A mastectomy is a surgery to remove a breast, and sometimes other tissues near the breast are also removed. This procedure is part of treatment for breast cancer. In some cases, a mastectomy is done to prevent cancer from occurring in women who have a high risk for breast cancer.
A mastectomy may be done as part of treatment for breast cancer. Your physician will likely advise you to have a mastectomy if:
The size of your breast may also help determine the type of mastectomy that is done.
In some cases, women with a high risk of breast cancer may want to have a mastectomy before cancer develops; this includes women with genes linked to breast cancer, as the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. In these cases, a mastectomy is done to try to keep breast cancer from occurring.
Mastectomy procedures include:
Breast reconstruction surgery after mastectomy
You may worry about how your breast will look after a mastectomy. In most cases, breast reconstruction surgery can be done to rebuild the breast so it is the size and shape of your other breast. Many women have breast reconstruction done at the same time as the mastectomy; some wait and have it done as a second surgery later. Always talk with your physician about reconstructive surgery options.
Possible complications of mastectomy include:
A clear fluid (seroma) is often found in the breast after a mastectomy. If this bothers you, it can be drained in the surgeon’s office. If needed, it can be treated with compression, or you may get an injection that helps to harden the space in the breast to help keep fluid from collecting there.
You will likely have a scare at the mastectomy site and may also have a pulling feeling near or under your arm after surgery.
Depression and feelings of loss of sexual identity may occur after a mastectomy.
It is rare that breast reconstruction surgery causes complications, but problems may happen as you are healing which may interfere with radiation or chemotherapy treatment.
There may be other risks depending on your specific medical condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your physician before the surgery.
A mastectomy typically requires a hospital stay, and procedures vary depending on your condition and your physician’s practices. Generally, a mastectomy follows the process below:
In the hospital
After the procedure, you will be taken to the recovery room and monitored closely. Your recovery process will vary depending on the mastectomy you had done and the type of anesthesia you are given. Once your blood pressure, pulse and breathing are stable and you are alert, you will be taken to your hospital room.
You will likely stay in the hospital for 1 to 3 days after your procedure; this will depend on the extent of your surgery and if you also had breast reconstruction done.
Radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be needed after a mastectomy; your physician will advise you about this depending on your particular situation.
Once you’re home, keep the surgical area clean and dry; your physician will give you specific bathing instructions. Unless otherwise instructed, the narrow strips of tape across the incision can get wet during the shower. You may be directed to replace a wet dressing with a clean, dry one.
You will be instructed about how to take care of the drainage tube; this should be removed after about 2 weeks at the first follow-up exam.
The amount of pain you have will vary depending on the amount and location of tissue removed during surgery; most soreness may last a few days. Take a pain reliever as advised by your physician. Aspirin and some other pain medicines may increase your chance of bleeding; be sure to only take recommended medicines.
If lymph node removal was done with your mastectomy, your physician may want you to do certain exercises which will help limber up your shoulder and arm area and help prevent swelling. Soreness after lymph node removal can cause you to keep your arm and shoulder very still making your arm and shoulder stiffness, but overdoing the exercises can also hurt you. So start the exercises slowly; do them regularly and progress a little each day. You may be advised to do these exercises even if you didn’t have lymph node removal.
If you have problems dealing with your recovery, your physician may refer you to a volunteer agency or group for support.
Tell your physician if you have any of the following:
Your physician may give you other instructions depending on your situation.