Recovering from a mastectomy or any other plastic surgery is difficult if you do not plan ahead. You should consider both the practical issues that will confront you as well as the more abstract concerns about the next steps in your life. After a mastectomy, you have to think about how to ease your physical recovery, your mental recovery, and decide whether you will follow up the surgery with any others.

What Is a Mastectomy?

When a woman discovers that she has breast cancer, she often has many choices in regards to treatment. However, when the cancer has advanced considerably, doctors may advise her to get a mastectomy instead of risking a further spread of the malignancy. Sometimes, doctors will even recommend a mastectomy for non-cancerous breasts that demonstrate a high likelihood of becoming cancerous.


What is a Mastectomy

Doctors remove breast tissue that is either cancerous or pre-cancerous. Sometimes, this essentially involves the removal of an entire breast, including even the nipples and lymph nodes.


Recovering from a Mastectomy

Mastectomies are difficult to recover from both mentally and physically. The loss of a woman’s breast or breasts affects her femininity and self-image. The diagnosis of cancer and the debilitating treatment with chemotherapy and radiation therapy can be exhausting and lead to depression and chronic fatigue. Postoperative pain, numbness, and prolonged need for drainage tubes are usually the major concerns of the early postoperative period.

The pain can be controlled with painkillers. If the medication that your doctor gives you for this stage of your recovery does not seem to quell the pain sufficiently, alert him or her. This may mean that there is a problem, or it may simply mean that you a need a different dosage or even a different painkiller.

The extent of the mastectomy and the pain involved may make it difficult to eat. If this is anticipated, you may wake up from the surgery with an IV drip in your arm. This will support you nutritionally until you are able to eat. You will probably remain on this IV until you are ready to leave the hospital. That may take anywhere from 24 hours to a few days.

The wound will probably drain noticeably. This is normal. Tubes will carry these fluids away from your body. The drainage tubes are a difficult part of the mastectomy recovery. These tubes sometimes need to be left in place for weeks and can be irritating and uncomfortable.

Being prepared prior to surgery usually helps with postoperative stress. When you come home, you should have an area of the house already prepared. You should be able to lie down and not need to get up for any reason. You can accomplish this by putting certain things close to your recovery space, such as remote controls, water bottles, and ice bags. You should also arrange for someone to stay with you for at least the first few days and visit you throughout your recovery. Some insurance companies pay for a home health nurse to visit postoperatively while recovering from a mastectomy.

As your surgical wound heals, you will need to keep it clean. This means that you will have to change the dressing, or someone will have to come do this for you. A nurse may be available during the earliest stages of this recovery, but you or someone else will have to learn how to clean the wound and replace bandages.


What Now?

As you complete the initial recovery, you will be able to see more and more of your scars. You will need to consider how you are going to deal with them in the near future. Some people choose to get skin grafts from other parts of their bodies to cover the scar tissue. In order to achieve an even closer resemblance to their bodies before damage occurred, many women schedule surgery for breast implants. This allows them to recover their figure and their appearance after a successful mastectomy. The remaining question, after choosing breast implants, is how long to wait. Women need to discuss this with their surgeons since their initial recovery will impact how soon they can have another surgery.


Recovering from a mastectomy can be a difficult and emotional experience, but it is important to consider your health and options. Finding a cosmetic surgeon that you are comfortable with is essential. Options to regain your original figure are available.

Dr. Elizabeth Harris is retiring, she will no longer be doing surgeries, but she will be available for existing patients until January 31st, 2023.DIRECTIONS