What are the types of mastectomy?
- Simple/Total Mastectomy–The entire breast is removed; lymph nodes and muscle are not removed.
- Radical Mastectomy–The entire breast is removed, this time including the pectoral muscles and lymph nodes extending under the arm. This is rarely done today.
- Modified Radical Mastectomy–Removes the entire breast including the lymph nodes;
- Double Mastectomy–Both breasts are removed.
- Lumpectomy/Partial Mastectomy–Part of the breast is removed, namely abnormal tissue or cancer, rather than the whole breast, just removing the lump.
- Nipple-Sparing Mastectomy–The breast tissue is removed, but the nipple and skin are left unscathed.
- Skin-Sparing Mastectomy–The skin is left intact while the breast tissue, areola, and nipple are removed.
Mastectomies are recommended for those who have large tumors or tumors that affect multiple areas of the breast. They can also be used as a preventative measure for those who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene or other genetic mutations that increase your risk of breast cancer. The skin- and nipple-sparing mastectomies are newer surgeries. These are optimal for minimal scarring and reconstruction.
What is recovery like for a mastectomy?
Your stay in the hospital after a mastectomy will vary depending on the kind of mastectomy you had, your reactions to the anesthesia, and whether or not you had reconstruction done at the time. However, it can be guaranteed that after surgery, you will be taken to a recovery room until the nurses are sure you are stable and (mostly) alert. At this point, you will be wheeled along to your hospital room where you will stay approximately 1-2 days.
Then, once you are home, you must keep the incisions clean. Your surgeon will give you instructions on how to do so, as well as how to care for your drainage tube, which you will only have with you until your follow up exam.
Your doctor should prescribe you medication for your pain, though the levels vary depending on the location, type of mastectomy, and amount of tissue taken. Follow your doctor’s instructions for approved medication intake.
It usually only takes a few weeks to be back to normal activities, though anything that uses your arms a lot or seems strenuous to your body should be approached cautiously for a while. If you’re ever unsure, you can always check with your doctor. It’s better to be safe than sorry. But soon enough you’ll be back on your feet and facing the world again.
What are mastectomy recovery tools?
While you are recovering, there will be many things you will have directly on your mind. There will be drains to empty and keep untangled, pain medications and antibiotics to keep track of, what will be waiting at home after your stay in the hospital, and your life at large to consider. But there are some tools to help you stay comfortable while you heal. And some people have been patients before you. They have tips to recommend based on their experience.
Some tools that many find helpful are drain belts or robes and mastectomy pillows. There are variations on both of these tools, but both offer support and work to simplify your recovery.
After the mastectomy, drains are left in the area to allow any access fluid to leave the body rather than pooling. The fluid follows a tube to a bulb that you empty regularly and record the amount in them. However, the tubes can quickly become an inconvenience with a risk of snagging. The easiest solution is to attach the drains to your clothes with the velcro attachment or clip them onto a lanyard. But other people have come up with more comfortable and convenient solutions. There are now drain belts, which are comfortable belts with holster-like pockets in which the bulbs can sit. There are drain robes that have pockets to keep the drains out of your way. And some companies produce adhesive pockets that will attach to whatever clothes you wear, making your pajamas into drain holders. Dr. Gorman’s surgical team will provide a bra for you post-operatively that includes rings to which you can attach your drains.
Mastectomy pillows are pillows that are shaped or placed in a way to help support you after your surgery. This can be anything from a regular pillow that is placed under your knees to raise your legs and increase blood flow to the armpit pillow–a rectangular pillow that lays over your chest with notches cut out for your arms. Some provide support for both breasts, while others go between the breast tissue of one breast and the other. Find the pillow that minimizes pain and discomfort and offers the support and comfort you will need. Volunteers in our community sew rectangular post-op pillows for Dr. Gorman’s patients. Each of Dr. Gorman’s patients receives one of these pillows in recovery immediately after surgery.
Previous breast cancer patients have made suggestions to make your recovery as easy as possible. First, stock up on food—at least two weeks’ worth–before your surgery. You will not want to go shopping while you are healing. And while you may not want to eat right away, you should try to find something light on the stomach so you can take it with your pain medication, such as yogurt or pudding.
When you take your first shower about two days after your surgery—or when Dr. Gorman clears you to do so—it’s generally best to do so sitting in a shower chair. You have been off of your feet and on medication since your mastectomy. It’s safest to sit while you clean yourself off.
Avoid housework. Think of this as an excuse to avoid your chores for as long as you can. You need to heal before you start expending that kind of effort. Similarly, don’t try to rush back to work. Many women recommend waiting at least three weeks before returning to your job. Returning too quickly could not only tire you out but could potentially cause complications. This advice is especially relevant to those who have reconstruction surgery, as well.
Dr. Gorman’s team provides a one-on-one education time for each patient that covers all of this information and more prior to a mastectomy.
What will my mastectomy scars look like?
The type or amount of scarring will differ based on the type of mastectomy you are having done. The total, radical, and modified radical mastectomies will leave a visibly large scar as a large amount of tissue/skin is removed. However, with partial/lumpectomies, skin-sparing, and nipple-sparing mastectomies, the scars are less noticeable. Skin-sparing mastectomies tend to leave behind a scar that is usually where the nipple was previously. The scar of the lumpectomy is small and linear and tends to be hidden away in the crease or around the nipple to avoid detection. Lastly, the nipple-sparing mastectomy generally leaves a scar under the breast, where it can be tucked away in the bra-line to avoid visibility.
The Texas Breast Center utilizes Hidden Scar™ Breast Cancer Surgery to help minimalize scarring in patients. Dr. Gorman works with each patient to make the right decision for them on the right kind of mastectomy, and from there to ensure the scarring will be minimal and where it will as minimally intrusive as possible.
How does breast reconstruction work?
Not everyone has breast reconstruction after a mastectomy. For example, those having lumpectomies do not necessarily need one, because a majority of the breast tissue is left alone in the breast. With a mastectomy, reconstruction is more likely as all the tissue was removed. However, it really is up to the patient. Talk to your surgeon about your preferences so that they can be informed when discussing your options with you
What are the risks of a mastectomy?
A mastectomy, like any other surgery, has its risks. There will be swelling in the area, as well as bruising for a while after the surgery. The breast will be sore and scar tissue will form and likely harden. Some patients experience phantom pain in removed breasts. More seriously, however, the incisions could bleed or become infected, or, more rarely, skin necrosis. There is a risk of lymphedema or swelling in the arm where lymph nodes were removed. Seromas (fluid filling the now-empty breast) can form. And not the least of the risks can be a change in self-confidence.
Dr. Gorman is aware of these risks and is there to help prevent them. If they can’t be avoided, she will support you through them and work with you on a plan to improve, step by step.
Should I have radiation or chemo with my mastectomy?
Chemotherapy is not used in all cases of breast cancer. And, if it is used, it is not always used in the same way. There are two primary ways it is used concerning surgery.
Some kinds of chemotherapy–neoadjuvant chemotherapy–is used before surgery as an attempt to shrink the tumor to a more manageable size that requires less extensive surgery. Adjuvant chemotherapy is given after surgery to kill any possible remaining circulating cells that may have been left behind to prevent more tumor growth.
Radiation is often recommended after a mastectomy as a tool to prevent the recurrence of cancerous growth. Traditionally, radiation is administered for five to six weeks, up to five days a week. However, Dr. Gorman has experience with a method that only takes five days, with less waiting period between surgery and the radiation beginning for post-lumpectomy patients.
Can men get a mastectomy?
Breast cancer in men may be rare, but it is still very possible. Only 1% of breast cancer diagnoses are in men, but that still accounts for 1 in every 1,000 men. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma is the most common form of breast cancer found in men. Like in women, black men have a higher risk of getting breast cancer than those of other races. Take precautions and familiarize yourself with the breast area by firmly feeling over the breast tissue in the area for anything unusual.
If a man receives a diagnosis for breast cancer, there is a high chance surgery will be involved in treatment. The operation could be used to establish how far into the lymph nodes the cancer has spread (a sentinel lymph node biopsy, for example), to relieve symptoms of advanced cancer, or to remove as much of the tumor itself as possible (a mastectomy).
All of these and a few more can be performed on a man to help treat him for breast cancer. It is not just women who get this disease, and today’s treatments reflect that.
How do I take blood pressure after a mastectomy?
There is some question about where to have blood pressure taken and blood drawn from post-mastectomy; more specifically, patients ask whether it is safe to do these things on the same side of the body as the mastectomy. While you can have your blood pressure tested from either arm without causing any trouble to your healing process, there could be a (minimal) risk when it comes to drawing blood after breast cancer surgery.
After certain types of mastectomies–radical mastectomy, modified radical mastectomy, sentinel lymph biopsy, or any procedure when the lymph nodes are removed–there is a risk of lymphedema. Lymphedema is a swelling of the arm and usually stems from an infection of the arm. Because having blood drawn in a medical facility is done in a clinical environment with sterile equipment, the already small risk of infection becomes minimal. However, it is still recommended to take the ‘better safe than sorry’ route and instead have your blood drawn from the arm opposite your operation.
The same goes for vaccines and other injections. While the medication won’t cause any complications, it’s best to reduce the chances of introducing possible infections to the area soon after your breast surgery or years later.
What do I ask my surgeon?
You should always prepare a few questions when going into a procedure like this. Likely, a number of them will get answered simply through the surgeon’s explanation of the process, but it never hurts to be prepared. Here a few to get you started:
- What are the risks of my type of mastectomy?
- Will I need reconstruction? Can it be done in the same procedure?
- How can I prepare my home for my recovery before the procedure?
- How can I emotionally prepare for this?
- What medicines/foods should I or shouldn’t I take on the day of the procedure?
- Who will perform my breast reconstruction surgery?
- How much breast tissue will be removed in my mastectomy?
- Will I need radiation therapy?
- How long will I stay in the hospital?
- Will I need to return for additional surgery?
And remember, there really are no stupid questions. None. This is your surgery, you deserve to know about it, and Dr. Gorman is here to help you understand. Ask away and she will do her best to answer. She will help with your before questions, your after questions, and your it’s-been-a-while-but-this-just-occurred-to-me questions. Being informed is something she wants for all of her patients, and something she will do her best to ensure as she walks with you every step of the way.
Who performs a mastectomy?
A breast cancer surgeon will perform your mastectomy, and a plastic surgeon will perform your breast reconstruction should you have that done. When choosing your surgeon, Johns Hopkins recommends a surgeon who:
- Specializes in breast cancer
- Is recognized as a breast surgical oncologist
- Performs many breast cancer surgeries each year
Looking at these qualifications, Dr. Valerie Gorman at the Texas Breast Center can be your breast cancer surgeon, and of course, is always ready to help. Her specialty is breast cancer surgery and its related topics. Her residency was in general surgery, though with a focus on detecting and treating breast cancer. She is also currently serving as the Chief of Surgery and Medical Director of Surgical Services at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center, as well as board-certified by the American Board of Surgery.
At the Texas Breast Center, mastectomies and other breast cancer surgeries are what Dr. Gorman is known for, and she performs them year-round.