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  • Mastectomy (mas-TEK-to-me) is surgery to remove the breast. It may be done to treat breast cancer (tumor) and keep the cancer from spreading. Mastectomy is usually done if there is more than one tumor present in the breast. It may also be done if the size of the tumor is big in relation to the size of your breast. Sometimes, mastectomy is done as a form of prevention in women who are at a very high risk of getting breast cancer.
  • Mastectomy may be done on one or both breasts and may be total, modified radical, or radical. Total mastectomy is removal of the whole breast, without taking out any other part. In a modified radical mastectomy, axillary (underarm) lymph nodes are also removed in addition to the breast. Radical mastectomy is removal of all the breast, axillary lymph nodes, and chest muscles under the breast. The type of mastectomy to be done will depend on what type or how far the cancer has spread. You and your caregiver will decide which type of breast removal surgery is right for you.



  • Keep a current list of your medicines: Include the amounts, and when, how, and why you take them. Take the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency. Throw away old medicine lists. Use vitamins, herbs, or food supplements only as directed.
  • Take your medicine as directed: Call your primary healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not working as expected. Tell him about any medicine allergies, and if you want to quit taking or change your medicine.
  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to fight or prevent an infection caused by bacteria. Always take your antibiotics exactly as ordered by your primary healthcare provider. Do not stop taking your medicine unless directed by your primary healthcare provider. Never save antibiotics or take leftover antibiotics that were given to you for another illness.
  • Pain medicine: You may need medicine to take away or decrease pain.
    • Learn how to take your medicine. Ask what medicine and how much you should take. Be sure you know how, when, and how often to take it.
    • Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine. Tell caregivers if your pain does not decrease.
    • Pain medicine can make you dizzy or sleepy. Prevent falls by calling someone when you get out of bed or if you need help.

Ask for information about where and when to go for follow-up visits:

For continuing care, treatments, or home services, ask for more information.

Ask your caregiver when you should return to have your wound checked, drain taken out, and stitches removed.

Bathing with stitches:

Follow your primary healthcare provider's instructions on when you can bathe. Gently wash the part of your body that has the stitches. Do not rub on the stitches to dry your skin. Pat the area gently with a towel. When the area is dry, put on a clean, new bandage as directed.

Breast exams:

Do a monthly breast exam on your other breast. If you are having periods, do it 2 or 3 days after your period ends. If you have gone through menopause (change of life), check your breast on the same day each month. You may also need to have a mammogram taken regularly. Ask your caregiver for more information about how to do a breast exam and when to have a mammogram.


You may need to have radiation therapy after your mastectomy. This is a treatment using x-rays or gamma rays. Radiation may help kill cancer cells that were left and keep these cancer cells from spreading.


Reconstruction surgery is done to make a breast that comes close in form and appearance to a natural breast. If a breast reconstruction has not been done, you may have one done at a later date after the incisions from the mastectomy have healed. The breast may be reconstructed using a flap taken from another part of your body or an artificial implant. If you choose not to have a breast reconstruction surgery, you may use a prosthesis (artificial breast) that can be worn in the bra. This may be made of foam or polyester fiber. Ask your caregiver for more information on breast reconstruction or other forms of prosthesis.

Rest when you need to while you heal after surgery.

Slowly start to do more each day. Return to your daily activities as directed.

Rest with your arm up on a pillow to decrease pain and swelling.


  • You have a fever.
  • You have discharge or pain in the area where the drain was inserted.
  • You have nausea (upset stomach) or vomiting (throwing up).
  • Your bandage becomes soaked with blood.
  • Your skin is itchy, swollen, or has a rash.
  • You have questions or concerns about your surgery, illness, or medicine.


  • You feel something is bulging out into your chest and not going back in.
  • You have pain in the chest or armpit that does not go away even after taking pain medicines.
  • You have trouble breathing all of a sudden.
  • Your incision has blood, pus, or a foul-smelling odor.
  • Your shoulder, arm, or fingers feel numb, tingly, cool to touch, or look blue or pale.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.