A mastectomy is performed under general anesthesia,
which means you are unconscious (asleep) during the surgery. The
surgeon removes all of the breast tissue (and in most, but not all cases
the nipple and areola are also removed).
The surgeon closes the skin with stitches
and attaches a temporary tube so that fluid from the wound can drain
out (see image below).
Image courtesy of Lange Productions (http://langeproductions.com/).
A pathologist checks the rim of normal
tissue around the tumor that is removed during breast surgery to see if
cancer cells are present. In rare cases after a mastectomy, this tissue
contains cancer and more surgery may be done.
Learn more about assessing tumor margins.
During a mastectomy for invasive breast cancer (and in some cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), some of the lymph nodes
in the underarm area (axillary nodes) are removed to check for cancer
cells. The axillary nodes are the first place breast cancer is likely to
spread. The presence or absence of cancer in these nodes is one of the
most important factors affecting cancer stage and prognosis.
Learn more about assessing axillary lymph nodes.
Some women choose to have breast
reconstruction to help restore the look and feel of the breast that was
removed. This may be done at the same time as the mastectomy (immediate)
or later (delayed).
For some women who choose immediate reconstruction, surgeons may use a special skin-sparing technique (and possibly a nipple-sparing technique)
during the mastectomy, which saves much of the skin of the breast. The
plastic surgeon can use this skin as an envelope to help form the
Some women choose not to have
reconstructive surgery or to do it later. When no reconstruction is
planned, the surgeon will leave the area as flat as possible so that a breast prosthesis can be comfortably fitted to the chest.
Learn more about breast reconstruction.
Learn about insurance coverage and financial assistance for breast reconstruction.
If you don’t want to have reconstruction,
you can get a breast prosthesis. This is a breast form made of silicone
gel, foam or other materials that is fitted to your chest. The form is
either placed directly on top of your skin or in the pocket of a special
Your health care provider can discuss
breast prosthesis options with you and help you choose the type that
best fits your lifestyle. Your prosthesis can be properly fitted several
weeks after your mastectomy surgery.
Learn about insurance coverage and financial assistance for breast prosthesis.
Breast prosthesis and air travel
Susan G. Komen
wants to ensure breast cancer survivors are treated with respect and
dignity. Here are some steps you can take that may help as you plan your
If you wear a breast prosthesis and have concerns about airline security screening, visit the TSA website for the latest information and a list of other tips to make the process as comfortable as possible.
Most people will stay in the hospital at
least overnight after a mastectomy. If breast reconstruction is done,
the stay may be longer, depending on the procedure. You should discuss
the expected length of stay with your surgeon, plastic surgeon (if
having reconstruction) and insurance provider.
Learn more about insurance issues related to mastectomy and breast reconstruction.
After mastectomy (with or without breast
reconstruction), you will likely have temporary soreness in your chest,
underarm and shoulder. You will be numb across your chest (from your
collarbone to the top of your rib cage). Unfortunately, this numbness is
usually permanent. You may get some feeling back over time, but it will
never be the same as before surgery.
If lymph nodes in the underarm area
(axillary nodes) are removed during surgery, you may also have some
numbness in your arm and there is some risk of lymphedema. Lymphedema is
a condition where fluid collects in the arm (or other area such as the
hand, fingers, chest or back), causing it to swell.
Learn more about the management of surgery-related pain.
Learn more about lymphedema.
You may not live near the hospital where
you will have your surgery. Sometimes, there are programs that offer
help with local or long-distance transportation and lodging. Some also
offer transportation and lodging for a friend or family member going
with you. There are also financial assistance programs to help you with
child care and elder care.
Learn more about transportation, lodging, child care and elder care assistance.
Susan G. Komen’s Breast Care Helpline: 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636)
to our breast care helpline are answered by a trained and caring staff
member Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET and from
6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. PT. Our helpline provides free, professional
support services to anyone with breast cancer questions or concerns,
including breast cancer survivors and their families. You can also email
the breast care helpline at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Breast Cancer 101
1-877 GO KOMEN(1-877-465-6636)