What is a mastectomy?
A mastectomy is an operation to remove part or all, of your breast, usually because of breast cancer. A total mastectomy is an operation to remove the cancer, the breast tissue, some skin and the nipple. If the cancer has spread into the underlying muscle, this may have to be removed as well.
What does this involve?
A mastectomy is usually done under general anaesthetic and you will need to stay in hospital for several days.
Your surgeon will make a diagonal or horizontal cut across the skin of your breast and the tissue will be removed. The skin is the reshaped and the cut is closed up with very fine stitches. Sometimes, a breast reconstruction operation may be performed at the same time and your surgeon can discuss your options with you.
Following the procedure you will be taken from the operating theatre into the Recovery Suite where you will be looked after until you are fully awake following the anaesthetic. After this, you will return to your room, where nursing staff will check your dressings and monitor your pulse and blood pressure at regular intervals.
Your anaesthetist is likely to prescribe painkillers to reduce any potential discomfort and you should take these regularly for the first few days. Pain can slow down your recovery, so it is important to discuss any discomfort with the nursing staff. You will also have wound dressings in place.
When will I recover?
After surgery, the area around your breast will feel tender and tight. Your arm and shoulder will also feel sore and stiff, especially if you've had all your lymph nodes removed. You will be given a set of exercises by your physiotherapist after your operation to help you regain strength and movement in your arm and speed up your recovery.
You will need to stay in hospital for several days although the length of your stay will depend on the extent of your surgery and how you feel afterwards.
At your post-operative follow-up appointment your surgeon will assess your progress and give advice on when you can resume your normal activities.
What risks should I know about?
Mastectomy is generally a safe operation but, like all surgery, there are some risks. Removing lymph nodes can cause fluid to build up in your arm, making it swollen and painful. This is called lymphoedema. Your breast care nurse will give you advice about how to prevent lymphoedema.
Some women still feel pain and sensations where the breast used to be, even though the breast has been removed and this can last for some years.
The chance of complications depends on the exact type of operation you are having and other factors such as your general health.