Women contemplating the surgical removal of one or both breasts; either as treatment for breast cancer or as a preventive measure when breast cancer risk is perceived to be high, mastectomy recovery is one of the factors that many women may have apprehensions about.
The mastectomy recovery time that a woman can expect, will depend upon the type of surgery she undergoes. Factors such as the type of disease that a woman has, how aggressive the tumor is, the number of lesions found, the availability of adjuvant radiation therapy as well as a woman’s willingness to accept the risk of tumor recurrence as well as whether a woman plans to have reconstructive breast surgery will influence whether a lumpectomy or a mastectomy is performed.
A lumpectomy is conservative breast surgery where the tumor and a small amount of surrounding healthy tissues are removed. A mastectomy is the removal of the entire breast.
Mastectomy is performed when there are more than one tumors in the breast that are far apart, if the tumor is very large compared to the breast size, or if the woman has connective tissue disease such as scleroderma, if she is pregnant (and therefore unable to receive radiation), or if a woman has opted for prophylactic (preventive) breast surgery.
Mastectomy recovery time based on type of surgery
A simple mastectomy involves the removal of one or both breasts (both breasts may be removed if mastectomy is prophylactic). The lymph nodes in the underarm are sometimes removed as well.
The recovery time for this type of mastectomy may be moderate and women can leave hospital shortly after surgery. Sometimes drainage tube may be inserted at the time of surgery which is removed some days after surgery when the flow of subcutaneous fluid has diminished.
Radical mastectomy removes not only the breast but also the chest muscles as well as the lymph nodes and is rarely performed today.
A modified version of the radical mastectomy however spares the chest muscles. Other procedures include skin sparing mastectomy or nipple sparing mastectomy which aims to reduce mastectomy recovery time but the main aim of which is to spare as much of the breast tissue as possible and to keep the disfigurement to a minimum.
The average hospital-stay after a mastectomy is about 3 days or less. It could however be more if a woman opts to have a mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery in the same procedure.
What to expect after a mastectomy
Since a drain and pump is often inserted in the breast tissue after a mastectomy to drain fluid, this could mean certain actions are to be avoided right after the surgery. Stiffness and formation of scar tissue at the site of the surgery are significant concerns and these can be prevented to an extent by appropriate exercises.
Taking it easy and resting after the surgery, taking proper pain medication, taking care of the stitches and preventing infection at the surgical site as well as appropriate exercises can help reduce mastectomy recovery times and prevent complications.