When patients first hear the word “mastectomy,” they have a lot of questions. We’re here to help you understand the basics so you can feel more prepared.
A mastectomy is a surgical procedure that removes all breast tissue to treat or prevent breast cancer. The weeks before surgery is one of the best times to talk about any concerns with your doctor. This is also the time to discuss pain management as well as any emotional support you may need. One of the things to think about before your mastectomy is whether or not you want breast reconstruction. Knowing your reconstruction options before surgery is often helpful.
Right after surgery.
The average time in the hospital after a mastectomy is three days or less. However, if you choose to have reconstruction as well, your hospital stay may be slightly longer. Before you leave, your surgeon and/or nurse will go over the following things with you:
- Pain medication: You will get a prescription to take when needed. It’s helpful to fill it on the way home or have a family/friend fill it so you have it when you need it.
- Post-op care: Your doctor or nurse will tell you how to take care of your mastectomy bandage. Removal may not happen until your first follow-up appointment. If you have a surgical drain, they will tell you how to care for it. Sometimes the doctor or nurse will remove it, but sometimes they wait until your follow-up visit, which usually occurs 1-2 weeks after your surgery. They will also explain any signs of infection you should look for.
- Exercise routine: It is important to prevent stiffness and scar tissue, so they will go over simple exercises you can do to keep the area flexible.
Recovery – the following weeks.
Recovery from mastectomy surgery may take a few weeks. Listen to your body – if you feel pain around the incision site, take the pain medication your doctor prescribed and use the medication only as recommended by your doctor and according to the instructions provided. Keep doing the exercises that your doctor showed you. Until your drain or sutures are removed and your doctor tells you it’s OK to shower, sponge baths are recommended. This is the time to say “yes” to any family or friends that offer to help – having help with meals, laundry, etc., will give you more time to heal.
Months to follow.
Everyone heals differently. Many mastectomy patients describe feeling sensations, discomfort, and sensitivity in their surgical area as their nerves regrow. Often over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen are enough to manage the pain, but talk to your doctor if they aren’t helping you. You’ll want to make sure you continue doing your arm exercises. If you feel fatigue, take time to rest.
Support when you need it.
There are many organizations that can help support you during this time. Talking with other breast cancer patients can be a great way to get advice. Below are a few organizations that offer a variety of support programs: