What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a harmful growth that starts in the glandular tissue of your breast.
What is a mastectomy?
A mastectomy involves removing all of your breast, usually including your nipple. As well as removing your breast tissue, your surgeon may remove lymph nodes in your armpit to find out if there are any cancer cells in them.
What are the benefits of surgery?
Removing the cancer by surgery gives the best chance of you being free of early breast cancer. The breast tissue and lymph nodes that your surgeon removes will be examined under a microscope to help decide on any further treatment.
Are there any alternatives to a mastectomy?
What does the operation involve?
The operation is performed under a general anaesthetic and takes 1 to 2 hours.
Your surgeon will make a cut on your breast to include the nipple and remove your breast tissue.
Your surgeon will remove any lymph nodes from your armpit usually through the same cut.
Your chest on the side of the operation will be flat. Your wound should heal to a faint line across the side of your chest.
All your breast tissue and lymph nodes that have been removed will be examined under a microscope. Your surgeon will know the results 1 to 2 weeks later.
What complications can happen?
Some complications can be serious and can even cause death.
General complications of any operation
- infection of the surgical site (wound)
- allergic reaction to the equipment, materials or medication
- blood clot in your leg
- blood clot in your lung
- chest infection
Specific complications of this operation
- developing a lump under your wound caused by fluid collecting
- developing a lump under your wound caused by blood collecting
- dumbness or continued pain around your armpit or the inner part of your arm
- skin necrosis, where some of the skin at the edge of your wound dies leaving a black area
- stiff shoulder
- arm weakness or swelling of your arm and hand
- asymmetry (different-shaped chest on either side)
- dissatisfaction with the appearance of your chest over time
Consequences of this procedure
- unsightly scarring of your skin
How soon will I recover?
You should be able to go home the same day or the following day.
You should be able to return to normal activities after 2 to 3 weeks.
Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.
The healthcare team will arrange for you to come back to the clinic within 3 weeks. The breast tissue and lymph nodes that your surgeon removed will have been examined under a microscope. Your healthcare team will tell you the results and discuss with you any treatment or follow-up you need. They will also be able to tell you when you can return to work.
Breast cancer may come back despite the best available treatment.
Surgery gives the best chance of you being free of early breast cancer. A mastectomy involves removing all your breast tissue. It usually involves removing some or most of the lymph nodes in your armpit, which helps your healthcare team to decide on any further treatment.IMPORTANT INFORMATION
The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you. Medical Illustration Copyright © Medical-Artist.com.
For more on how this information was prepared, click here.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: September 2023