Giving hope to those affected
by secondary breast cancer

Research. Support. Education.

What Is A Mastectomy?

8th April 2021 by Claire O'Donnell Education


A mastectomy is an operation to remove all of the breast and is used to treat breast cancer in both men and women. 


Recovery time can take between 4-6 weeks. 


Before having the operation, you will discuss the procedure with a specialist nurse or surgeon.  Your surgeon will discuss the type of mastectomy you’ll have, possible complications and the option of breast reconstruction.  You may need to have chemotherapy before the operation to reduce the size of the tumours. 


The type of surgery depends on how big the cancer is, where it is in the breast and whether you have a breast reconstruction. 

During a simple mastectomy, the surgeon removes the breast tissue (including the nipple and some of the skin) and the tissues that cover the chest muscles. Rarely, the surgeon also removes the muscles of the chest wall. This is called a radical mastectomy.

The scar from a simple mastectomy extends across the skin of the chest and into the armpit.

You may have a different type of mastectomy if you have a breast reconstruction. These include:

  • a skin sparing mastectomy – removal of the breast tissue and nipple but keeping most of the skin
  • nipple sparing mastectomy – removal of the breast tissue but keeping most of the skin, the nipple and the area around the nipple

Your surgeon will tell you what type of surgery is best for you.

Lymph Node involvement - lymph nodes help remove bacteria and other waste from the body and if cancer has spread to them, the lymph nodes under your arm will be removed during the operation, known as an axillary lymph node clearance. 


You will wake from the operation with - 

  • A drip in your arm for fluids
  • Drainage tubes from the wound to help prevent fluid build up
  • A dressing to help keep the wound clean


You will feel sore for a few days after and most people’s wounds take 2-3 weeks to heal but it can take several months before your chest and arm fully recover.  You may experience numbness where lymph nodes were removed. 


The scar will extend across the skin of the chest and into the armpit, usually hidden by a bra cup.  It will fade over time but never completely disappear. 

Arm exercises are recommended to encourage full range of movement back to your arm and shoulder.


You may return to driving 3 weeks after the operation but it may be sooner depending on how you feel and your medical team will advise. 


Returning to work can take between 4-8 weeks depending on recovery time and varies from person to person.