According to the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons, about 40% of women diagnosed with breast cancer will have a mastectomy operation to remove a breast.
Some women with a high risk of getting breast cancer also choose a mastectomy as a preventative measure.
If you are considering having a mastectomy because you have been diagnosed with cancer, you are probably feeling scared, anxious and worried about your future. Your main concern will be to give yourself the best chance of getting rid of the disease.
You could also be considering a preventative mastectomy if you have been deemed to be at high risk of developing breast cancer as determined by genetic testing or a breast health assessment.
Having a mastectomy is a hard decision, and whatever your circumstances and reasons for considering this operation, we understand what you are going through and can help.
If you decide to have your treatment with us, you will be looked after by an experienced multi-disciplinary care team.
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You will have a formal consultation with a healthcare professional. During this time you will be able to explain your medical history, symptoms and raise any concerns that you might have.
We will also discuss with you whether any further diagnostic tests, such as scans or blood tests, are needed. Any additional costs will be discussed before further tests are carried out.
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Our dedicated team will also give you tailored advice to follow in the run up to your visit.
Before you come in for your operation, you will have an appointment with a specialist breast care nurse who will provide advice and support on the practical and emotional aspects of having a mastectomy. This will include information on suitable bras, prostheses (bra inserts) and aftercare.
We understand that having surgery can be a time of worry and anxiety. Our experienced and caring medical staff will be there for you, holding your hand, every step of the way.
The scale of the operation will depend on your diagnosis and, if you have cancer, how much it has spread.
A partial mastectomy removes part of the breast tissue and the cancer. A total mastectomy removes the cancer, the breast tissue, some skin and the nipple. If the cancer has spread into the underlying muscle, this may be removed as well.
Sometimes lymph nodes will also be removed from your armpit as cancer tends to spread to there. Lymph nodes are small bean-shaped organs that are part of your immune system. The nodes are examined under a microscope to see if the cancer has spread into them. Axillary clearance is when all the lymph nodes in your armpit are taken out.
The surgery will generally take two to three hours.
You will be put under a general anaesthetic whichever procedure you have. The surgeon will make incisions across your breast (and sometimes under your armpit) and then remove as much tissue as he or she feels is necessary. This will be discussed in detail with you beforehand.
Your surgeon will be very experienced at carrying out this operation but sometimes the cosmetic result can be upsetting. In your consultations beforehand, the doctor will discuss the possibility of breast reconstruction at the same time as your mastectomy.
Many women who have mastectomies choose this option and it’s possible to have the reconstructive surgery done at the same time. It can boost confidence and help patients feel that they have put the disease behind them to get on with their lives.
You will be taken from the operating theatre to a recovery room, where you will come round from the anaesthesia under close supervision.
After this, you will be taken to your room or comfortable area where you can rest and recuperate until we feel you’re ready to go home.
While you are in hospital a physiotherapist will help you with exercises that will speed up your recovery.
You will experience some discomfort, bruising and swelling around your breast and shoulder after the operation, so we will give you pain relief medication while you’re with us and we will provide you with a supply of all the medicines your consultant feels you need to take home with you after you've left hospital, up to 14 days. This may be at an additional cost to some patients.
You will be advised on the steps you should take to speed up your recovery before you leave the hospital and you may be given a series of exercises to do every day.
You should arrange to take a couple of weeks off work. The time it takes to fully recover will depend on the extent of the surgery and your health before the operation but it’s often possible to get back to light physical activities within two or three weeks.
It’s normal to feel sensations – like heat, cold or pain – in the place where your breast was removed. For some women this can last months or even years after surgery.
After mastectomy you should have regular check-ups and make sure you live a healthy lifestyle. Depending on your diagnosis, some consultants will recommend a mammogram or MRI after breast reconstruction, just to have a basis for comparison in case anything develops again in the future.
If you didn’t have reconstructive surgery you will be given a special foam bra insert and at your follow-up consultations you will be offered a permanent silicone false breast.
Once you’re ready to be discharged, you’ll need to arrange a taxi, friend or family member to take you home because you won’t be able to drive. You should also ask them to help with shopping and cleaning for a few weeks.
We’re with you every step of the way through your recovery, even after you’ve left hospital.
After your operation we will provide you with all the appropriate medication, physiotherapy exercises, advice on what you should and shouldn't do, and any other follow-up support you need. You will be given an outpatient appointment to have any stitches taken out. You will see your breast care nurse for a more substantial prosthesis at your follow-up appointment. This is usually four to six weeks after your operation. We will arrange a follow-up appointment with your surgeon to discuss any further treatment that you may need such as radiotherapy, chemotherapy or hormone treatment (tamoxifen).
On rare occasions, complications following surgery can occur. The chance of complications depends on the exact type of operation you are having and other factors such as your general health. Your consultant will talk to you about the possible risks and complications of having this procedure and how they apply to you.
If you have any questions or concerns we’re ready to help.
We are committed to delivering excellent individual care and customer service across our network of hospitals, clinics and specialist care centres around the UK. Our dedicated and highly trained team aim to achieve consistently excellent results. For us it's more than just treating patients, it's about looking after people.
The treatment described on this page may be adapted to meet your individual needs, so it's important to follow your healthcare professional's advice and raise any questions that you may have with them.
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