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What happens during a simple mastectomy?

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Quick Answer

During a simple mastectomy, surgeons remove the whole breast but leave the lymph nodes and underlying muscle tissue, reports the American Cancer Society. Some women decide to have breast reconstructive surgery at the same time as the cancer surgery. During the surgery, which lasts two to three hours, the patient is under general anesthesia and has an IV drip in a vein for medications, a cuff on the arm for blood pressure and an electrocardiogram machine for checking heart rhythm.

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Full Answer

A woman usually has a simple mastectomy, also known as a total mastectomy, if she has cancer that has not yet spread to the lymph nodes or as a preventative measure if she is at high risk of getting breast cancer, explains WebMD. Reconstructive surgery rebuilds breast mounds to restore their appearance, according to the American Cancer Society. Even if women want to have reconstructive surgery later, they should consult with their plastic surgeons and breast surgeons to ensure that their treatment plans prepare for delayed reconstruction. To prepare for surgery, women should quit smoking and possibly donate some of their blood in case they need transfusions.

Women having simple mastectomies generally remain in the hospital for one or two days after surgery, but the specific length of time depends on their overall health and how the surgery goes, points out the American Cancer Society. After a simple mastectomy, most women can resume normal activities after about four weeks. About 20 to 30 percent of women may experience post-mastectomy pain syndrome, which involves recurring tingling or nerve pain in the arm, armpit and chest wall. To alleviate post-mastectomy pain syndrome, women can get prescriptions for pain medication from their doctors.

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