A mastectomy is an operation that removes breast tissue in both women and men. This surgery is often recommended for treatment of breast cancer or pre-cancerous cells and is performed under general anesthetic. Although the operation only takes around two hours and most people go home the following day, it’s important that you take time to recover fully from the procedure.
It can take around four to six weeks to recover from a mastectomy, and it’s important you follow your doctor’s advice during this time. In addition to the information provided by your surgeon, here are six tips to help you recover.
After a mastectomy, your body will need lots of rest to recover from the stress of the surgery. You are likely to be fatigued for the few weeks following the operation so stay at home and sleep when you need to. Don’t be shy about asking others to pitch in around the house and do your grocery shopping until you’re back on your feet – your loved ones should want to help.
It’s normal to feel a mixture of numbness and pain around the breast incision site, as well as the armpit incision if you’ve had an axillary dissection. This can be uncomfortable, so keep plenty of pain medications on hand for your recovery period. Warm sponge baths and washcloths can also help reduce pain and swelling, though you will need to wait until any surgical drains and staples are taken out before you can take a bath or shower.
You will probably need to wait until your follow-up visit to remove bandages and dressings, though your physician should tell you how to care for these at home before you leave the hospital. Your sutures should dissolve over time, but any surgical staples should also be removed on one of your follow-up visits. Be careful not to touch the injury site, as you will be particularly vulnerable to infection while the incision heals.
If you have a surgical drain in your breast or armpit, this should be taken out before you go home. Sometimes surgical drains are left in to help speed up your healing, in which case, your doctor will remove the drain 1-2 weeks after surgeryand you will need to empty the fluid at home in the meantime. Make sure you ask for instructions on how to care for a surgical drain before you leave the hospital.
After the surgery, your doctor will explain how to tell if your incision becomes infected and when to call the hospital. If you have had an axillary dissection, your doctor will tell you to watch for signs of lymphedema. “Lymphedema refers to swelling of the body’s tissues that usually develops in the arms or legs, and it can be treatedsuccessfully with cosmetic surgery” explains top female plastic surgeon Elena Prousskaia. ‘The most important thing is that the issue is identified at the earliest possible stage.’
You will need to do arm exercises for several weeks or months to help prevent stiffness in your arm and shoulder. Your healthcare provider will work with you to determine which exercises are right for you and should provide an information sheet for you to take home.
It can take a few weeks to recover from a mastectomy, so it’s important you take the rest your body needs to heal. Expect to feel fatigued for a while following your surgery, but don’t hesitate to call your doctor if you’re finding it difficult to recover during the months that follow.