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(Breast Surgery; Surgery for Breast Cancer; Surgery to Remove a Breast)

Click here to view an animated version of this procedure.


A mastectomy is a surgery done to remove breast tissue. Mastectomy procedures include:
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Reasons for Procedure

A mastectomy is done:

Possible Complications

Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Your doctor may do the following:
  • Physical exam
  • Mammogram —a test that uses low-dose x-rays to make a picture of breast tissue
  • Fine needle biopsy to test the breast tissue for cancer
  • Blood and urine tests
Leading up to the surgery:
  • Talk to your doctor about your medications and supplements. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to 1 week before the procedure.
  • Arrange for a ride home.
  • Eat a light meal the night before the surgery. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight, unless otherwise instructed.


General anesthesia —you will be asleep during the procedure

Description of the Procedure

The extent of the surgery will depend on the type of mastectomy you are having.
For breast-conserving surgeries, an incision is made where the tumor is located. The tumor is taken out along with a small bit of normal tissue that surrounds it.
For breast-tissue removal procedures, the entire breast, and fatty tissue are removed. The doctor may also need to remove lymph nodes and portions chest muscles that support the breast. Tissue that is removed during surgery is examined under a microscope for any abnormalities. If you have skin-sparing surgery, the skin around the breast will be retained.
After either surgery doctor will then insert a tube to drain blood and fluids. Lastly, the area will be closed with stitches.

How Long Will It Take?

1-3 hours

Will It Hurt?

Anesthesia will prevent pain during the procedure. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.

Average Hospital Stay

1-3 days

Post-procedure Care

At the Hospital
Right after the procedure, you will be in a recovery room where your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing will be monitored. Recovery may also include:
  • Pain medications
  • Antibiotics to prevent infection
  • Medication to prevent blood clots
  • Getting out of bed and moving around within 24 hours of your surgery
If you had cancer and it has spread, chemotherapy and/or radiation may be needed.
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection such as:
  • Washing their hands
  • Wearing gloves or masks
  • Keeping your incisions covered
There are also steps you can take to reduce your chances of infection such as:
  • Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and healthcare providers to do the same
  • Reminding your healthcare providers to wear gloves or masks
  • Not allowing others to touch your incisions
At Home
Recovery will take about 6 weeks. Self-care measures and medications will help ease discomfort. Activity may be restricted during this time, but complete rest is not necessary. The care staff will help you with exercises to help maintain arm strength and prevent lymphedema. To prevent infection at the incision site, follow instructions on how to clean and care for the wound.
Ask your doctor when you can begin wearing a light-weight prosthetic breast. You can be fitted for a more permanent one when the incision area has healed. If you want breast reconstruction surgery, talk to your doctor.

Call Your Doctor

It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.


American Cancer Society

Breast Cancer


Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation

Women's Web


Axillary lymph nodes. Breast Cancer website. Available at: Updated September 17, 2013. Accessed January 3, 2014.

Breast cancer in women. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated December 16, 2013. Accessed January 3, 2014.

Surgery for breast cancer. American Cancer Society. Available at: Updated December 31, 2013. Accessed January 3, 2014.

Surgery for early and locally advanced breast cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated December 22, 2013. Accessed January 3, 2014.

Treatments and side effects. Breast Cancer website. Available at: Updated May 15, 2013. Accessed January 3, 2014.

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