Mastectomy is just one of the treatment options available to breast cancer patients. Learn more about what to expect before, during, and after the procedure, as well as some tips to help you prepare.
A breast cancer diagnosis can be devastating, and navigating potential treatment options can be stressful and overwhelming. One treatment option available to some breast cancer patients is undergoing a mastectomy—the surgical removal of the entire breast.
Understanding Your Options
Mastectomy is typically recommended for breast cancer patients who1:
- do not want or are unable to have radiation therapy
- have previously undergone surgery to remove cancer in the breast
- have multiple tumors in the same breast
- have a large tumor (greater than five centimeters)
- have a genetic factor (such as BRCA) that increases the chance for cancer recurrence in the future
- or have been diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer
However, as with many other cancer treatments, there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to mastectomy. In fact, there are five different types of mastectomies2, including:
● Partial Mastectomy: The surgeon removes the breast tissue in which cancer cells have been detected, as well as a predetermined margin of normal tissue from the surrounding area.
● “Simple” or “Total” Mastectomy: The surgeon removes the whole breast but does not touch the lymph nodes in the underarm area or the muscles below the breast.
● Modified Radical Mastectomy: The surgeon removes the whole breast as well as the lymph nodes in the underarm area. The muscles below the breast remain untouched.
● Radical Mastectomy: The surgeon removes the whole breast, all surrounding lymph nodes, and the muscles below the breast.
● Nipple-sparing Mastectomy: The surgeon removes the whole breast, but the nipple is left intact.
Undergoing Mastectomy: What to Expect
Mastectomy is a major surgical procedure. Patients may alleviate some of the stress associated with surgery by educating themselves about what to expect before, during, and after the procedure. Before your procedure, it helps to make a list of questions and bring them with you when you visit your surgeon. Getting answers to questions such as: “What are the risks associated with this treatment?” “How can I best prepare myself emotionally for the surgery?” and “What will the surgery and my hospital stay be like?” can help you gain valuable insight about the procedure.3
After your mastectomy, expect to remain in the hospital for one or two nights before being discharged. At discharge, your health care team will provide you and your caregiver with written instructions about how to best care for the surgery site and dressing, how to spot signs of infection, and how to bathe properly.1
You might experience some side effects as a result of a mastectomy, including pain and swelling around the surgery site, a build-up of blood or fluid at the surgery site, and numbness in the chest or arm.1 Full recovery will depend on several factors, including the type of mastectomy your surgeon performed and whether or not you also had breast reconstruction done. Many patients can return to normal activities within four weeks.1
Looking Beyond to Breast Reconstruction
Some patients who undergo mastectomy might choose to have breast reconstruction either immediately after or following their recovery. Patients should speak with their health care team to determine if they are a candidate for breast reconstruction.
Breast reconstruction helps restore the look of the breast that was removed and can happen at the same time as the mastectomy or a later date chosen by the patient and their health care team.4 Depending on the procedure performed, breast reconstruction might include using breast implants, tissue flaps created from the patient’s skin, fat, or muscle; or a combination of both.5
For patients who cannot or do not wish to have breast reconstruction surgery, other options, including breast prosthesis, also exist.
If you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed with breast cancer and would like to learn more about the disease, please visit NFCR’s breast cancer resources or visit our Cancer Patient Treatment Assistance.
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1 Mastectomy: Mastectomies for Breast Cancer. (2019, September 18). Retrieved September 13, 2020, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/treatment/surgery-for-breast-cancer/mastectomy.html
2 What Is Mastectomy? (2020, February 26). Retrieved September 13, 2020, from https://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/surgery/mastectomy/what_is
3 Wechter, D. G. (2019, March 13). Mastectomy and breast reconstruction – what to ask your doctor: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved September 13, 2020, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000253.htm
4 What to Expect During a Mastectomy Surgery. (2020, May 23). Retrieved September 13, 2020, from https://www.komen.org/breast-cancer/treatment/type/surgery/mastectomy/
5 Breast Reconstruction or Prosthesis After Mastectomy. (2019, November 19). Retrieved September 13, 2020, from https://www.komen.org/breast-cancer/screening/self-awareness/