(Breast Surgery; Surgery for Breast Cancer; Surgery to Remove a Breast)
- Partial mastectomy or lumpectomy—a tumor and a small margin of surrounding breast tissue is removed
- Simple mastectomy—the entire breast is removed
- Modified radical mastectomy—entire breast and some lymph nodes in the armpit are removed, but chest muscles are left in place
- Radical mastectomy—entire breast, lymph nodes, and chest muscle are removed (rarely done)
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Reasons for Procedure
- To treat breast cancer
- To prevent breast cancer if you have a family history of the disease and are at very high risk for breast cancer (occasionally done)
- To treat severe side effects from previous treatment for breast cancer (rarely done)
- Bleeding and bruising
- Seroma (accumulation of clear fluid in the incision)
- Swelling of the arm caused by accumulation of fluid in lymph nodes (lymphedema)
- Limited arm and shoulder movement
- Numbness of skin on upper arm
- Pain after the procedure (burning, stabbing pain where breast was removed)
- Poor nutrition
- Recent or chronic illness
- Use of certain medicines or dietary supplements
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
- Physical exam
- Mammogram—a test that uses low-dose x-rays to make a picture of breast tissue
- Fine needle biopsy of the breast—a thin, hollow needle is used to remove a small tissue sample from the breast
- Blood tests
Talk to your doctor about your medicines and supplements. You may be asked to stop taking some medicines up to one week before the procedure like:
- Aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs
- Blood thinners, such as clopidogrel (Plavix) or warfarin (Coumadin)
- Arrange for a ride home. Ask someone to help you at home.
- Eat a light meal the night before the surgery. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.
Description of the Procedure
How Long Will It Take?
Will It Hurt?
Average Hospital Stay
- If you had cancer and it has spread, chemotherapy and/or radiation may be needed.
- The drainage tubes may be removed in 1-2 days.
- Managing pain and nausea—You might require anti-nausea and pain medicines. You may be nauseated for a few hours after surgery and may not be able to eat normally. Therefore, you may continue to receive fluids and sugar through an IV. For several days after surgery, you may need to eat a lighter, blander diet than usual.
- Preventing blood clots—You may be given special compression stockings to wear after surgery. These help to decrease the possibility of blood clots forming in your legs.
- Improving lung function—You may be asked to use an incentive spirometer. This is a device that helps you breathe deeply. It is important to breathe deeply and cough frequently to improve lung function after general anesthesia.
- Keep the area clean and dry.
- If you have drainage tubes, empty the drains and measure the fluid. Tell your doctor if you have any problems.
- Avoid vigorous activity for about six weeks.
- Work with a physical therapist. Therapy may involve shoulder and arm exercises.
- Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe, or soak in water.
- Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions.
If you have had lymph nodes removed, take these precautions to avoid fluid accumulation and infection:
- Elevate the affected arm.
- Perform range of motion activities with the arm. Start slowly.
- Do not have blood pressure taken, blood drawn, or shots given in that arm.
- Wear gloves to do dishes, household scrubbing, and yard work.
- Do not wear anything tight on that arm, including elastic in sleeves.
- Do not carry anything heavy with that arm.
- Use moisturizer on that arm.
- Use an electric shaver to shave your armpits.
- Do not get a sunburn.
Call Your Doctor
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the incision site
- Cough, shortness of breath, chest pain
- Nausea and/or vomiting that you cannot control with the medicines you were given after surgery, or which persist for more than two days after discharge from the hospital
- Redness, warmth, swelling, stiffness, or hardness in the arm or hand on the side of the body where the lymph nodes were removed
- Swelling and/or pain in your legs
- New, unexplained symptoms
- Lumps or skin changes in remaining tissue on mastectomy side
- Lumps, skin changes, or nipple drainage in remaining breast
American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org
Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation http://www.cbcf.org
Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca
Axillary lymph nodes. Breastcancer.org website. Available at: http://www.breastcancer.org/pictures/breast%5Fanatomy/axillary%5Flymph%5Fnodes. Updated May 2008. Accessed July 22, 2008.
Surgery for breast cancer. American Cancer Society. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-treating-surgery. Updated September 2007. Accessed July 23, 2008.
Treatments and side effects. Breastcancer.org website. Available at: http://www.breastcancer.org/treatment. Updated July 2008. Accessed July 22, 2008.
- Reviewer: Andrea Chisholm
- Review Date: 10/2012 -
- Update Date: 10/31/2012 -