Mastectomy is surgery to remove the breast. The most common mastectomies are called simple (or total) and modified radical. During these procedures, the chest muscle under the breast is not removed. As a result, arm strength remains. Keeping the chest muscle also makes reconstruction easier.
Simple (total) mastectomy
During a simple mastectomy, the breast tissue (lobules, ducts, and fatty tissue) and the nipple are removed. This surgery most often needs a hospital stay. Based on the results of surgery and follow-up tests, more treatment may be needed.
Modified radical mastectomy
This type of mastectomy is usually done to treat invasive cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes. During the mastectomy the breast tissue and a strip of skin with the nipple is removed. Some of the axillary lymph nodes are also removed. (These are lymph nodes in the arm pit.) The removed nodes are tested for cancer. Sometimes a surgical drain is used to keep fluid from building up. This drain usually stays in for 1 to 2 weeks after surgery. Modified radical mastectomy almost always needs a hospital stay. Based on the results of the surgery and follow-up tests, more treatment may also be needed.
Right after surgery
You will wake up in the recovery room. You may have an IV (intravenous) line for fluids and medicines. You will have a tight dressing wrapped around your chest and there may be a drain coming out of it. Pain medicines will be given to you as needed. A nurse will check your temperature, pulse, and blood pressure. You’ll likely stay in the hospital for at least a day.
You will be given instructions on how to care for the dressing and drains, what kind of pain medicines you should use, and how to take care of yourself as you recover. Make sure you understand all the instructions and know when you need to next see the healthcare provider.
Risks and complications of mastectomy
Pain or numbness
Bleeding or infection
Stiffness of the shoulder
Fluid collection (seroma)
Long-term swelling of the arm (lymphedema)
Talk to your healthcare provider about the risks related to your surgery and what you can do to help prevent problems.
When to call your healthcare provider
Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following after surgery:
A change in the way the drainage looks or increased drainage
Increased pain, warmth, swelling, or redness at the incision(s)
Cough or shortness of breath
Pain in the chest or calf
Bleeding that soaks the dressing
Any other problems your healthcare providers told you to watch for and report
Make sure you know how to reach your healthcare provider in case problems come up. Know how to get help after office hours, on weekends, and on holidays, too.