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Having a Breast Removed

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 19 Nov 2012 | comments*Discuss
Breast Removal Breast Removal Surgery

The surgical procedure of having a breast removed is known as a ‘mastectomy’ and is an operation which is aimed at removing cancer.

The Operation

The operation is performed under a general anaesthetic and normally lasts between about an hour to 4 hours depending on the extent of the cancer as well as whether you choose to have reconstruction surgery done simultaneously.

The procedure itself will vary depending on what type of mastectomy you are undergoing. There are three main different types of mastectomy although there are a couple of further variations as well. The most common types of procedure are:

  • Simple – this removes only the breast tissue
  • Radical – this removes both the breast tissue and the muscles on the chest wall
  • Modified Radical – this removes the breast and the lymph nodes underneath the arm but does not remove the chest wall muscles

After The Operation

Once the operation has been completed, a dressing and, perhaps, a bandage will be placed over any incisions that have been made. You’ll also have some small plastic tubes placed under your skin next to where the incision took place which have been put in to drain any fluids which accumulate.

If there are no complications, you are usually only in hospital for a few days after the operation although this can also vary depending on the type of surgery you’ve had. However, the tubes will stay in place for 2 to 5 days on average. Although you are likely to experience some discomfort post surgery, you will receive pain killers to counteract that.


Before go home, you will be seen by a physiotherapist who will advise you about some gentle exercises you can carry out whilst in hospital and also once you go home in order to rebuild the strength and movement in your arm. You’ll also be given advice on things like hygiene, bathing and caring for your stitches which, if they need removing, will be taken out about a week to 10 days after surgery.

In terms of getting back to work and resuming any of your usual physical activities, this will vary depending on the nature of your work and hobbies although you will be told to refrain from any strenuous work or vigorous physical workout or lift any heavy weights for a few weeks.

Likewise, with driving, you’ll not be able to drive until you can perform an emergency stop without feeling any discomfort which will also be around 3 weeks after the operation.

Further Treatment

You may need to continue with further treatment for a time after your operation. This might include having chemotherapy, radiotherapy or hormone treatment but your surgeon will advise you about this.

There may be other additional reasons for you to come back to hospital if, for example, you decide to have a breast prosthesis fitted or as a result of any breast construction surgery you might have had. Once again, these are all options that you will have discussed with your surgeon prior to the operation taking place.

On a physical level, many women can often resume with their everyday activities within a few weeks of the operation. During this period, you may feel extremely tired a lot of the time but this is perfectly normal.

However, in terms of adapting to your life having had a breast removed, this can affect women emotionally in many different ways and it is not uncommon for it to take several months to fully get over a mastectomy. Your surgeon and nursing team will also be able to discuss any psychological issues you might be faced with and tell you where you can receive support with this.

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