• What is the recovery from a mastectomy like?

    Asked by airaani on Thursday, August 30, 2012

    What is the recovery from a mastectomy like?

    My mom has stage 1 breast cancer, and has the option of a lumpectomy, or a mastectomy. She is leaning toward the lumpectomy because it is less invasive and traumatic to the body, but admits that the mastectomy's once-and-it's-over property is appealing (as contrasted with the radiation she'd have to undergo after the lumpectomy).
    I am in no way attempting to make the decision for her or push her in a direction she doesn't want to go. But I did want to collect information about how difficult the recovery from a mastectomy really is. Does anyone have any experiences they could share?

    11 Answers from the Community

    11 answers
    • leepenn's Avatar

      i had stage ii breast cancer, and i choose bilateral mastectomy. i choose to do both for several reasons, including a desire for symmetry and a fear of being in for biopsies every time a new bump or lump turned up. i had bumpy boobies.... i also did not feel the need to simply have breasts. so, i opted against reconstruction.

      so, there are a lot of things to consider...
      1) does your mom want to have breasts when it's finished? in other words, would she want to either do lumpectomy or mastectomy with reconstruction?
      2) if your mom does mastectomy, would she do a single or a double?

      mastectomy plus reconstruction is a big deal. it seems i hear about people having problems with the reconstruction phase fairly often. the mastectomy alone is really not that big of a deal. you do end up with drains for a week or so... but, overall, the recovery is not so bad.

      for me, i love being flat. i chose bilateral mastectomy with no reconstruction. i do miss my nipples, but i am joyfully flat. anyway, i was back at work the week after, and, really, it was all very manageable. every one is different, though. i gather my recovery was quite a bit faster than the norm. but, then again, i'm a stubborn little bugger.

      does your mom need to do chemo? i hope that she does not have to...

      best wishes,

      almost 6 years ago
    • GetMyLifeBack's Avatar

      I had stage 1 and went with a bilateral mastectomy because it made me feel more confident...whether or not that is all that rational I don't know. Avoiding radiation was a plus as well. The first week of recovery was very painful. I did the immediate reconstruction with expanders then implants. I had a wedge pillow to help me get in and out of bed. I had drains in for a week but that wasn't all that bad. I heard other people needed help with "milking" their drains but I never had any such problem. I did not have any complications and I was able to have a skin sparing mastectomy on the non-effected side. It took me three weeks to go back to work but I probably could have gone back sooner. I think peace of mind is worth the pain. I know that the risk of it spreading to the other breast was low but it would also be the first place it would go. I went to seminars and women who ultimately had to have both sides taken all said they wished they had done both the first time around.

      almost 6 years ago
    • lynn1950's Avatar

      I had a bilateral mastectomy (no reconstruction - yet). Being flat has its advantages and disadvantages. The surgery itselt was not too rough. I was pretty out of it the day of the surgery, but was ready to go home the next day. The biggest hassle post surgery was the drains. You have to measure output for a couple of weeks until it is low enough to have the drains removed. I don't remember a lot of pain from the mastectomy. Having lymph nodes removed complicates the surgery and the recovery. I had trouble lifting my lymph node arm and had to work to get my range of motion back. Best of luck to your mom.

      almost 6 years ago
    • airaani's Avatar

      Thank you so much for the responses.
      I don't know how much my mother cares about having breasts in general, but I do not think she had even considered doing both sides. She seems to dislike the idea of being lopsided, and so was considering reconstruction. I understand you can get bras with a silicone cup or something in one side, but since she does not normally wear a bra, this did not appeal.
      It's very interesting to know that the reconstruction seems to be more difficult than the mastectomy as well. The reason I was liking the idea of the mastectomy for her was that it seemed like it would minimize the chance of her needed to do more treatment, be it radiation or another surgery, afterward. It is very encouraging to know that you ladies recovered so well from the bilateral mastectomy. Thank you again for your response and support!

      almost 6 years ago
    • nancyjac's Avatar

      I've had both a lumpectomy ( a number of years ago) and a mastectomy (this past April). There really wasn't any difference in terms of recovery. I spent the same amount of time in the hospital, the same amount of time with drains, and the same amount of time with pain/soreness and wound healing.

      So there are a lot of differences and things to consider between a lumpectomy and a mastectomy, but recovery from the actual surgery isn't one of them. Medically and procedurally they are the same and a mastectomy is really no more invasive or traumatic than a lumpectomy. Both require anesthesia, incisions, drains, and stitches.

      I still needed to have radiation, both with my lumpectomy and with my mastectomy. If you mom has the option of not having radiation with a mastectomy then the mastectomy being less traumatic and easier recovery wins hands down.

      As other's have said, if she decides to go with a mastectomy, then her next decision is to whether to go single or bilateral and whether or not to have reconstruction. I had a bilateral with medically necessary reconstruction (flap) on one side. Because I had inflammatory breast cancer, I had to have a lot of skin removed on the affected side and there was not enough skin left to close the wound. Because I also needed radiation and had had the same area irradiated before, I need to have a flap of skin and tissue taken from elsewhere (in my case, lower abdomen) and reattached to my chest. This was a big deal and required a much longer hospital stay, healing time, and follow up than the bilateral mastectomy.

      Were I in your mom's situation, I would definitely opt for bilateral mastectomy with no reconstruction as both the easiest and safest (in terms of lowest risk for surgical complications and cancer recurrence.

      almost 6 years ago
    • laurie's Avatar

      I had a mastectomy with a tram flap reconstruction done at the same time. The recovery time was a good 6-8 weeks. They did a lift on the other side so I would be symmetrical. I actually look better now than I did before! I had a revision on the new breast in April and the nipple reconstruction. I am having another minor revision on my good breast in October. I have no regrets - I think this was the best choice for me. My advice for your mom is to go see several plastic surgeons and let them explain her options to her. You are a wonderful daughter to be helping her!

      almost 6 years ago
    • Ydnar2xer's Avatar

      I have had breast cancer two times. The first time, in 2003, it was DCIS in my right breast. I opted for lumpectomy because I had already gone through a lot with breast reduction and didn't want to give the girls up too easily! I had no drains with lumpectomy, but did do 7 weeks (5x/week) of radiation 70 miles r/t away. Was lucky with radiation; no burns, just was tired. Also did 5 years of Tamoxifen, which I didn't enjoy, but it wasn't too bad.

      9 years and 1 month to the day later I had IDC in 3 places as well as more DCIS in that same )(#*%)(*%#)(%*ing right breast! (It was a DUD breast!) It was a very easy decision to go with bilateral mastectomy, as I was tired of "fiddling around" (!) with my lumpy breasts. I have felt GREAT since two days after the surgery; the most irritating part of it all has been the drains. Icky and disgusting, they "pull" on me sometimes when I try to move around. But I get them out tomorrow--11 days post-op, so I can celebrate!

      I can honestly say that after being a very big girl (40DDD) even after reduction, I am ENJOYING my flatness! So much less to carry around! I am planning on reconstruction, but not until later--maybe May--(want my cancer to totally whither and DIE first!) and this time, instead of Grandma boobs resting on my knee caps, I want some little tiny ones (B-C's) right under my chin!

      18 weeks of TCH chemo as well as a year of Herceptin alone are ahead of me (am a Her-2 + girl), which I start on 9/18. Am somewhat apprehensive about it, but at my age have done many things other people haven't done (basic training, Army officer training, graduating from college again at age 50, etc.) so I think I like going against the grain and facing challenges...of course, let's talk again after I'm about 7 weeks into the chemo, LOL. My own hair is PINK until it falls out, which I predict at the end of September, then I have three wigs (so far) lined up to do the job of keeping my head warm during the winter. (Thinking of adding a pink tinsel wig for special occasions to my line up.)

      This posting is long and too-self serving, but your question is one that touched me as to its immediacy and relevance. Wishing you and your mom the best--why can't people like Jerry Sandusky get breast cancer, instead of regular people like us? Good luck and let us know what she decides!

      almost 6 years ago
    • SandiD's Avatar

      I chose a lumpectomy because I felt it was less invasive. I also was Stage I and I have also survived early colon cancer. The recovery was pretty easy. I then did chemo and radiation. Radiation really was a piece of cake after chemo. I did get a burn towards the end, more like a bad sunburn in one area. None of this fun but doable. I also am on 5 years of an aromatase inhibitor. Many of us never have a recurrence, but if we do, I will deal with that later. I could get hit by a bus & it won't matter right? Not to scare you, but I have a friend who did a double mastectomy with chemo. 10 years later it came back in a node under her arm. There are no guarantees, we just do what feels right for us and hope for the best. You seem to be a supportive daughter. Your mother needs that. I wish doctors just told us what to do instead of giving us surgical options! Good luck to your mother. Make sure you look after yourself too.

      almost 6 years ago
    • jvbaseballmom2's Avatar

      I was told that I had to have my right breast removed, and opted to have a bilateral mastectomy. I have not regretted my decision ever. I was 46 years old at the time, and 10 days after my surgery, my 9 year old's baseball team made it to the state championships. I was not going to miss that for the world. I went to his games, with my drains and all, and was able to see his team win the state championship. I think the hardest part of the recovery was the soreness, and getting up and down from chairs/bed (not using my arms to lift me up). I think i would say I was recovered fully by 4-6 weeks.

      almost 6 years ago
    • rkyobo's Avatar

      I'm from a family where the women get breast cancer in their early 60's (three of my sisters have had it - one didn't survive...the one who got chemo and radiation...go figure...) Anyway, since I am now 59, I feel I'm probably BC waiting to happen...so with that dark cloud over me and the worries of possibly having to deal with lymphedema the rest of my life, I have opted to have prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. I have done a LOT of research on this. The recovery period for simple mastectomy (no lymph node removal) is very short - 2-4 weeks from what I've learned. At my age, and with the caring supportive husband I have...I've decided NOT to have reconstruction. I've heard nightmare stories of reconstructions that didn't go well. I do love my breasts, but have lately just focused on the UP-side to not having them. There are a lot of clothes I'll be able to wear that I haven't ever been able to before because my breasts were too big. I won't be a hot...sweating under my breasts...as before. For a menopausal woman, that is a HUGE bonus, believe me! I won't have to worry that my nipples are showing when I go bra-less. For me, I'm usually bra-less anyway, and have to sometimes use tape to cover my nipples, and still it looks funny - NO MORE!! hee-hee. That's the biggest UP I can think of. But I will be praying for your mom to make the right decision for her. God bless!

      almost 6 years ago
    • DaveWaz's Avatar

      Thank you so much for sharing your question. I hope all is well.

      Your question reminded me of some experience content we have on the site. One of the pages is about experience with a mastectomy:


      There are also some pages on experiences with breast reconstruction:


      One last thing, is I wanted to let other WhatNexters know about our Beginner's Guide to Cancer, which includes a guide on how women chose between a lumpectomy and mastectomy.


      Best of luck to all,

      almost 5 years ago

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