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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What do I need to know about a mastectomy?

A mastectomy is surgery to remove all or part of one or both breasts. Tissue, lymph nodes, or muscle near the breast may also be removed. A mastectomy may be done to treat breast cancer or prevent the cancer from spreading. The type of mastectomy used depends on the size of the tumor and if the cancer has spread. A mastectomy can also be done to prevent breast cancer. This may be a choice if you are at high risk for breast cancer.

How do I prepare for a mastectomy?

  • Your surgeon will talk to you about how to prepare for surgery. He or she may tell you not to eat or drink anything after midnight on the day before your surgery. Arrange for someone to drive you home and stay with you after surgery. This person can help care for you and watch for complications from surgery.
  • Tell your surgeon about all medicines you currently take. He or she will tell you if you need to stop any medicine for the surgery, and when to stop. You may need to stop taking aspirin or blood thinners several days before surgery. He or she will tell you which medicines to take or not take on the day of surgery.
  • Tell your healthcare provider or surgeon about all your allergies, including allergic reactions to medicine, anesthesia, or antibiotics.

What will happen during a mastectomy?

  • You will be given general anesthesia to keep you asleep and free from pain during surgery. You may be given an antibiotic to help prevent a bacterial infection.
  • Your surgeon will make an incision over your breast. He or she will remove the tumor and breast tissue. The nipple and areola (area around the nipple) may be removed. Surgery that leaves these in place is called nipple-sparing mastectomy. Your surgeon may also remove muscle from behind your breast. If lymph nodes will be taken, a small incision will be made in your armpit. The lymph nodes will be removed and tested for cancer.
  • Your surgeon may leave extra skin if you are having reconstruction surgery. This surgery is called skin-sparing mastectomy. Reconstruction surgery helps make the breast look more natural. It is done right after the mastectomy.
  • One or more drains may be inserted near your incision. A drain removes extra fluid and helps your incision heal. Your surgeon will close your incision with stitches and cover it with a bandage. He or she may also wrap a tight-fitting bandage around both of your breasts. This may decrease swelling, bleeding, and pain.

What should I expect after a mastectomy?

  • You will be helped to walk around after surgery to help prevent blood clots.
  • Healthcare providers will monitor you until you are awake. You may need to spend 1 to 2 nights in the hospital.
  • You may have trouble moving the arm closest to your mastectomy. This should get better in a few days.

What are the risks of a mastectomy?

You may bleed more than expected or develop an infection. Nerves, blood vessels, and muscles may be damaged during your surgery. Blood or fluid may collect under your skin. You may need other procedures to remove the fluid or blood. You may have swelling in the arm closest to the mastectomy or where lymph nodes were removed. This swelling is called lymphedema. Lymphedema may cause tingling, numbness, stiffness, and weakness in your arm. This may be permanent. You may get a blood clot in your arm or leg. The blood clot may travel to your heart, lungs, or brain. This may become life-threatening.

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