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Learn more about mastectomies at King Edward VII’s Hospital

Why would I need a mastectomy?

If there is a family history and they are at high-risk for developing breast cancer, some women opt to have a mastectomy even if they don’t actually have cancer.

However, most mastectomies are carried out on women who have been given a breast cancer diagnosis and if the following is the case:

  • There are many pre-cancerous cells in the breasts
  • A large area of the breast contains cancer
  • There is cancer throughout the breast

When should you speak to your specialist about a mastectomy?

If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, or if there is a history of breast cancer in your family and you are high-risk, you might want to consider speaking to your specialist about the possibility of undergoing a mastectomy.

How is a mastectomy performed?

A mastectomy is performed while you are under a general anaesthetic and it shouldn’t take much longer than 90 minutes. There are different types of mastectomies you might undergo, depending on how much tissue your surgeon thinks should be removed.

During the procedure, the surgeon will make an incision into your breast and tissue will be removed.

If it has been determined that the cancer has spread into your lymph nodes, these will be removed during your mastectomy. If the cancer hasn’t spread, it’s possible that during your mastectomy, the surgeon might remove sentinel lymph nodes so further tests can be conducted on them.

What is the recovery for a mastectomy?

After your mastectomy you might have to remain in hospital overnight, but if you feel well enough, it’s possible that you can go home on the same day as your surgery.

It is normal to feel sore after a mastectomy, but you will be given pain relief to help manage this.

It may take up to a few months before you feel totally back to normal, but most women find that their surgical wounds have healed within 3 weeks.

If you have any questions about what you can expect after your mastectomy, you should discuss them with your GP or healthcare team.

Are there any risks/complications associated with a mastectomy?

As with any surgical procedure, it’s possible for complications to occur. You should speak to your surgeon about how best to avoid any adverse effects.

Some complications that have been associated with a mastectomy include:

  • An infection in the wound
  • Swelling near the wound
  • Numbness and tingling

How can I prepare for a mastectomy?

Before you undergo a mastectomy, you should discuss any questions you have about the procedure or its recovery with your healthcare team. Here, you might discuss whether you are interested in having breast reconstruction surgery (using replacement tissue or an implant to create a new breast).

Your surgeon or healthcare team will also advise you of any specific preparations that you should make in advance of your mastectomy.

Are there alternatives for a mastectomy?

If you are high-risk for developing breast cancer, there are certain medications that you can take rather than opting to have an elective mastectomy.

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