What Should I do After a Mastectomy?

M.C. Huguelet

A mastectomy is the surgical removal of one or both breasts. It is generally performed on women who either have been diagnosed with breast cancer or who are considered to have an elevated risk of developing the disease based on personal or family history. After a mastectomy, you will undergo two stages of recovery: in-hospital recovery and at-home recovery. While in the hospital, you will recuperate under the supervision of medical staff and learn to care for your wound. Once at home, you will care for your wound, take all necessary medications, perform arm exercises, visit your doctor as needed, and get plenty of rest.

A mastectomy is a very serious operation that can be a preventative measure against breast cancer.
A mastectomy is a very serious operation that can be a preventative measure against breast cancer.

Immediately after a mastectomy, you will likely spend two to three days in the hospital. During this period, you will be under the direct observation of hospital staff. They will monitor your vital signs and check your wound site to make sure it has not become infected.

While in the hospital, one of your primary jobs should be to simply rest and regain strength. You should also consult with hospital staff to learn how to care for yourself once you have been discharged. For instance, you must learn how to identify a potential infection, how to perform stretching exercises to prevent discomfort in your arm, shoulder, and back, and if necessary, how to look after your wound drain.

When you have returned home after a mastectomy, you will need to take charge of your recovery. You must take any painkillers or antibiotics your physician may have prescribed as directed, and if you have a wound drain, you must keep it clean. In addition, you must be aware of the signs of an infection, and contact your physician if you suspect you have one. It is also important to regularly exercise the arm nearest the breast which has been removed to prevent discomfort in the area. In addition, you should help your body regain strength by getting plenty of rest.

Finally, in the weeks after a mastectomy, you should visit your physician as scheduled. You will likely have an appointment approximately one to two weeks after your surgery in which your physician will inspect the health of your wound and discuss the results of your mastectomy. At this time, she may also help you plan for a breast reconstruction procedure if needed, or might advise you as to whether further cancer treatments such as radiation are necessary.

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