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Recovering from a Mastectomy

Whether you’ve had breast cancer or are known to have a predisposition to breast cancer, your doctor may recommend a mastectomy. A mastectomy, or removal of one or both breasts, is a major surgical procedure that requires plenty of recovery time. Whether your mastectomy was due to breast cancer or a predisposition to breast cancer, keep in mind during the recovery that the surgery may have saved your life, and that the pain and discomfort will end and life will go on. In the meantime, you can make the recovery period easier by following your doctor’s instructions and knowing what to expect.

Pain Management

Pain Management

You’ll want to fill the prescriptions for your pain medicines as soon as possible, and take them before the pain hits. Because it’s easy to lose track of time after surgery, use a notebook to write down the times and doses of pain medicines that you’ve taken. Your doctor will also give you laxatives, since you may experience constipation after the surgery.

Drains, Stitches, and Staples

Sometimes, the drains will be removed before you leave the hospital. In many cases, however, you will go home with multiple drains still in for a week or two following the surgery. If so, you’ll need to empty the bulb multiple times a day and keep track of how much fluid you are emptying out.

Your incision will be closed with either stitches or staples, probably covered by a bandage. Stitches usually dissolve over time, and your surgeon can easily remove a stitch that pokes out of the incision. Staples need to be removed by the doctor, which would usually happen during your first post-op visit. Do not remove any bandages or stitches unless you have your doctor’s instruction to do so.

Rest and Recovery

Rest and Recovery

Perhaps the most important piece of advice you can get about recovery from a mastectomy is the importance of resting and taking it easy. Fatigue is completely normal after a mastectomy, and you should avoid doing anything more strenuous than walking – including housework, if possible – until the drains have been removed. Depending on your recovery time, you will probably be ready to go to work between three and six weeks after the surgery.

If you have had lymph nodes removed, it may be difficult or uncomfortable for you to move your arm. Although you should not specifically avoid using your arm, go slowly; even pulling open a drawer can cause you pain during the first week if you’re not careful. Try to put objects that you will need often at an easy height, and keep in mind that you may need help with basic actions such as pulling a coat on or opening a child-safe pill cap. You should also avoid exercising your arms strenuously until after you have seen your doctor at your first post-operative visit and avoid heavy lifting for six weeks following the surgery. In time, you’ll be given exercises to keep your muscles flexible and to improve your range of motion.

Make sure to take care of yourself after your mastectomy, taking any offers of help from family or friends seriously, and accepting them whenever possible. The more you rest, the easier your recovery will be. Make sure you’re eating nutritious food and drinking plenty of water as well.



Although you’re supposed to be getting a lot of rest, many people find it difficult to sleep after a mastectomy. You will need to sleep on your back for three or four weeks, which can be difficult if you’re used to sleeping on your stomach or side. Not only that, but laying your arms by your side can pull at the surgical site, causing discomfort or pain while you sleep. You also may wake up several times a night due to muscle spasms or the need to move around, especially if you had expanders inserted during the surgery.

Again, keep in mind that the discomfort is temporary, and that the surgery can virtually eliminate the risk of recurring breast cancer.

Keywords: mastectomy, breast cancer, surgery, recovery

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