You had a mastectomy, the surgical removal of the entire breast. This surgery was done to treat or prevent breast cancer. Your procedure was one of these:
Full recovery may take 4 to 8 weeks. You may have shoulder, chest, and arm stiffness. This stiffness gets better over time and can be helped with physical therapy.
You may have swelling in the arm on the side of your surgery. This swelling is called lymphedema. The swelling usually occurs much later and it can be a problem that lasts. It can also be treated with physical therapy.
You may go home with drains in your chest to remove extra fluid. Your surgeon will decide when to remove these drains, usually in a week or two.
You may need time to adjust to losing your breast. Talking to other women who have had mastectomies can help you deal with these feelings. Ask your health care provider about local support groups. A mental health care provider can help as well.
When sitting, keep your arm on the side of your surgery up as high as your heart. Doing so helps prevent swelling. If swelling in your arm does not go away, talk to your doctor.
It is okay to use your arm on the side of your surgery. But do not overdo it until sutures (stitches) or staples and all drains are removed, and you have seen your surgeon.
Ask your surgeon when you can return to work. When and what you can do may vary, depending on the work you do and whether you also had a lymph node dissection.
Wearing a loose-fitting bra may be more comfortable.
You may still have drains in your chest when you go home from the hospital. You will need to empty and measure how much fluid drains from them.
Stitches are often placed under the skin and dissolve on their own. If your surgeon uses clips, you will go back to the doctor to have them removed. This usually takes place 7 to 10 days after surgery.
Care for your wound as instructed. Instructions may include:
Your surgeon will give you a prescription for pain medicines. Get it filled right away so you have it available when you go home. Remember to take your pain medicine before your pain becomes too bad.
Try using an ice pack on your chest and armpit if you have pain or swelling. Do this only if your surgeon says it is okay. Wrap the ice pack in a towel before applying it. This prevents cold injury of your skin. Do not use the ice pack for more than 15 minutes at a time.
Your surgeon will tell you when you need to have your next visit. You may also need appointments to talk about more treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation.
Breast removal surgery - discharge; Subcutaneous mastectomy - discharge; Total mastectomy - discharge; Simple mastectomy - discharge; Modified radical mastectomy - discharge
Hunt KK, Green MC, Bucholz TA. Diseases of the breast. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 36.
Khatcheressian JL, Hurley P, Bantug E, et al. Breast cancer follow-up and management after primarytreatment: American Society of Clinical Oncology clinical practice guideline update. J Clin Oncol. 2012 Nov 5. [Epub ahead of print.]
Riutta J. Post-mastectomy pain syndrome. In: Frontera, WR, Silver JK, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2008:chap 107.
Updated by: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, General Surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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