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What to expect with
Learn about what is involved after a mastectomy surgery and how to prepare beforehand.
Mastectomy is a treatment for women
diagnosed with breast cancer
or those who are genetically
predisposed to cancer. The removal
of one or both breasts, mastectomy
surgery may involve removing just the
breast tissue or, in some cases, the lymph
nodes as well.
Data from the Agency for Healthcare
Research and Quality says its analysis
points to a 36 percent increase of both single
and double mastectomies between the
period of 2005 and 2013, the most recent
year for data.
Women on the precipice of mastectomy
surgery will naturally have many
questions concerning the procedure and
projected recovery. The process of recovering
is different for everyone, and not
all mastectomies are the same. The following
is a general idea of what patients
can expect before and after mastectomy
A mastectomy is performed under
general anesthesia, advises the nonprofit
group Susan G. Komen. Therefore, patients
should expect to undergo routine
physical exams and may require a surgical
pre-clearance from a doctor and the
surgical hospital or center. Blood tests
and an EKG may be ordered as well.
Prior to surgery, patients
can begin making plans for
childcare, meal preparation,
shopping, work requirements,
and more. As mastectomy is
an invasive procedure, patients
may experience pain and fatigue
after surgery. Having various
plans in play well before the
surgery date can relieve some
stress and help patients focus
on their recoveries.
Purchase comfortable clothing that
will be loose around the arms and chest.
Zip-up tops or those with front buttons afford
easy access. Some women also opt to
get fitted for post-op garments, including
a lymphedema sleeve. Lymphedema is a
swelling of the area, and it is a common
side effect. It is helpful to be prepared before
such items are needed.
Mastectomy surgeries typically last
between two and three hours. Some may
last longer if reconstruction is performed
at the same time. Patients will be admitted
to a hospital stay for a day or two and
moved to a recovery room, and will need
to be driven home upon discharge.
Expect to be bandaged and possibly
have a surgical drain at the wound site.
The nonprofit resource Breastcancer.org
says the drain usually remains in place
one to two weeks after surgery. Fluid will
have to be emptied from the detachable
drain bulb a few times per day. Sutures
that are dissolvable will not require removal.
Patients should follow the recovery
plans outlined by their doctors. Rest is
most important during this time, so do
not overdo exercise or other activities, although
some movements to relieve shoulder
stiffness may be advised.
Pain, numbness, itching, and myriad
other symptoms may occur. Take pain
medications only as needed and directed.
Weakness is expected in the arms and
shoulders. Ask for help lifting, moving, or
picking up items.
Emotional side effects can be just
as profound as physical ones. Fear
of the cancer, body image issues, and
a sense of loss can occur. Having a
strong support team can help, as
can speaking with a professional
It can take several weeks to
start feeling like oneself again after
mastectomy surgery. Women should not
hold themselves up to anyone else’s standards
and be patient and hopeful because
this challenging time is temporary. Learn
more at Breastcancer.org.
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