What Is the Recovery From a Mastectomy Like?

What Is the Recovery From a Mastectomy Like?
Dr. June J. Lee Surgeon Smithtown, NY

June Lee, MD is breast surgeon specializing in breast cancer as well as other problems of the breast, including lumps, abnormal imaging studies, and high risk conditions such as brca mutation. Her cutting-edge surgical care includes; the nipple-sparing mastectomy and oncoplastic surgery, which means treating breast problems... more

After a mastectomy, you may experience some uncomfortable sensations such as pain, numbness and pinching around the location of the surgery. You will be bandaged up around the surgery area to protect you from infection, and you will be taken to a recovery room to heal. A nurse will monitor you to make sure you are recovering safely. The nurse will check on things like your body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure.

As you come into consciousness as the anesthesia wears off, you may feel pain and/or nausea. Definitely let someone know how you are feeling as soon as this happens. You will be given pain medication to reduce your discomfort and help you through recovery.

Once you leave the recovery room, you will be admitted to a hospital room where you might stay for up to three days. Depending on the intensity of your surgery, for example if you had reconstruction as well as a mastectomy, you will stay in the hospital for a longer period. If your surgery wasn't as major, you may stay in the hospital for a shorter duration.

After a large surgery like a mastectomy, antibiotics and medications are often prescribed to fight and prevent infection.

If you are feeling stiffness in your arms and shoulders from not being able to move them after surgery, ask your doctor or caregivers for exercises. Regardless of whether you ask or not, you will likely be provided with such exercises anyway. These exercises will help your wounds heal so you can return to proper functioning, and they will also help prevent massive scar tissue from forming.

Make sure you continue with these exercises for as long as your doctor directs you to, and oppositely don't begin them until your doctor says its safe. If you have drains from surgery still in you, you may need to wait until they are removed before you start your exercises.

You will be given instructions on how to take care of your wounds and check for infections, and your doctor will ask you to avoid many daily activities until you are healed.

While you are recovering at home, it is extremely important to take good care of yourself. Your doctor will most likely give you a prescription of pain medication, and you should take it as directed. You will not want to suffer from the pain of this surgery, so get the prescription filled as soon as you are on your way home if you have someone who can help you get it.

Before you leave the hospital, make sure you know the signs of an infection and the signs of any possible complications. Get information on how to care for your wound, the bandaging, and your surgical drain if you have one. It is common for doctors to ask patients to keep their bandage in place and their drain until the first follow-up, which will probably be a week or two after surgery.

If you go home with a drain still in place, you will need to empty the fluids that are collected multiple times a day.

Surgeons these days mostly use dissolvable stitches, but occasionally surgical staples might be used. Staples will removed at you first follow-up appointment. And if you received stitches that have not fully dissolved, point them out to your surgeon so they can take them out. It is a quick and easy fix to remove stitches.

Keep up with the exercises your doctor told you to do, and do not start wearing a bra or prosthesis until you are healed.

Within a week or so after the surgery, also at your follow-up, your doctors will give your pathology result and explain if you need follow-up treatment. Such treatment may include chemotherapy, hormone therapy and/or radiation therapy.

To help you cope, support groups and counseling may be recommended.