Here’s how long recovery should take and what side effects you may experience.
Along with coping with the diagnosis itself, people with breast cancer are faced with a difficult decision when it comes to their treatment options—since some options, such as surgery, may affect the look of their breasts.
“Being diagnosed with breast cancer is something that will shake a woman to their core,” says Jaime Alberty-Oller, MD, breast cancer oncologist and surgeon at Dubin Breast Center, Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Breasts are obviously very intimately tied to femininity and how a woman will feel about themselves.”
Many women with early-stage cancers are given the opportunity to choose between total removal of a breast (mastectomy) or breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy). There can be pros and cons to both, so the choice to do one or the other is a completely personal decision.
For some, mastectomy may be a better option, depending on the type of breast cancer, the size of the tumor, previous treatment history, or other factors.
“I always try to reassure patients that if they need a mastectomy oncologically, that they should not fear the worst. Nowadays, especially because of the reconstruction options that we have, we are managing to make reconstructed breasts look as normal as possible,” says Dr. Alberty-Oller.
“The most important thing is to get the cancer out and do a surgery that is safe, oncologically speaking. That we’re taking out the cancer and we’re trying to avoid the cancer coming back in the future,” says Dr. Alberty-Oller.
If you have chosen to have a mastectomy surgery, here’s what you can expect afterwards:
In-hospital stay: A mastectomy is an inpatient procedure, so patients will often stay in the hospital for one or two nights after surgery, according to Dr. Alberty-Oller. If you have a mastectomy and reconstruction at the same time, you may be in the hospital a little longer.
Recovering at home: Before leaving the hospital, your nurse will likely give you information on how to:
Take your medications
Care for the bandage over the surgery site
Care for the surgical drain that helps to drain any fluid that may accumulate after surgery
Care for the stitches or staples
Recognize signs of infection or lymphedema (swelling in the arms or legs)
Side effects: There are a range of side effects you can expect after a mastectomy surgery, including:
Pain or tenderness
Swelling at the surgery site
Buildup of blood in the wound (hematoma)
Buildup of clear fluid in the wound (seroma)
Limited arm or shoulder movement
Numbness in the chest or upper arm
Or nerve (neuropathic) pain (sometimes described as burning or shooting pain).
Recovery time: “I would say that a mastectomy patient should be able to fully recover within one to three weeks if they have not had reconstruction,” says Dr. Alberty-Oller. If a woman has had breast reconstruction, their recovery time may be longer, around four to six weeks.
A mastectomy patient should be able to expect full range of motion and to go back to their regular life within that time frame, he says.
Whether you chose a lumpectomy or a mastectomy, Dr. Alberty-Oller says it’s important for patients to get back to work and get back to their families as soon as possible, so “they can feel like this is something that just happened to me, and not necessarily sort of changed my life completely,” he says.
Dr. Alberty is a surgical breast oncologist at the Dubin Breast Center of the Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital.
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I think being diagnosed with breast cancer
is something that will shake a woman to
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The breasts are obviously very
intimately tied to femininity and
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how a woman will feel about themselves,
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regardless of the fact that they
choose a lumpectomy or a mastectomy.
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Emotionally that's something that
their family, their partner,
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even their social structure should
help them, either get back to work,
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get back to their families
as early as possible.
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So that they can feel like this is
something that just happened to me and
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not necessarily sort of
changed my life completely.
00:00:34,113 --> 00:00:38,765
00:00:38,765 --> 00:00:40,830
After we do a mastectomy surgery,
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usually a patient will stay in
the hospital for either one or two nights.
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Usually they will go home with drains,
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which are plastic tubes that are inserted
into the mastectomy cavity for
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us to be able to drain any fluid
that may accumulate after surgery.
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I would say that a mastectomy patient
should be able to fully recover
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within 1 to 3 weeks if they
have not had reconstruction.
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If they have had reconstruction usually it
would take a little bit longer than that.
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A mastectomy patient should be able
to expect full range of motion.
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They should expect to be able to go back
to their regular life within that time
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00:01:20,395 --> 00:01:24,053
Patients will ask me what side
effects they can expect after surgery,
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whether it be a lumpectomy or
a mastectomy surgery.
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Obviously it's very personal.
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There's a range of things that
they can expect after surgery.
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The most common things I would
say would be pain, swelling.
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They can also expect numbness or
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They can expect collections of fluid or
blood to happen in the area of the breast,
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and this can be either a seroma or
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I always try to reassure patients
that if they need a mastectomy
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oncologically that they
should not fear the worse.
00:01:56,429 --> 00:02:02,001
Nowadays, especially because of
the reconstructive options that we have,
00:02:02,001 --> 00:02:07,412
we are managing to make reconstructed
breasts look as normal as possible.
00:02:07,412 --> 00:02:13,552
The most important thing is to get cancer
out, and do a surgery that is safe.
00:02:13,552 --> 00:02:16,907
Oncologically speaking that
we're taking out the cancer and
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we're trying to avoid a cancer
from coming back in the future.
00:02:20,341 --> 00:02:26,452
Surgery for Breast Cancer. American Cancer Society. (Accessed on May 21, 2019 at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/treatment/surgery-for-breast-cancer.html)
Exercises After Breast Cancer Surgery. American Cancer Society. (Accessed on May 21, 2019 at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/treatment/surgery-for-breast-cancer/exercises-after-breast-cancer-surgery.html)
Oncoplastic techniques in breast-conserving surgery. UpToDate. (Accessed on May 21, 2019 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/oncoplastic-techniques-in-breast-conserving-surgery)
Mastectomy: Indications, types, and concurrent axillary lymph node management. UpToDate. (Accessed on May 21, 2019 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/mastectomy-indications-types-and-concurrent-axillary-lymph-node-management)