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Mastectomy (cont.)

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Mastectomy Risks

Most women recover with no complications; however, as with any surgery, risks are involved. The risks of any surgery include infection, bleeding, those risks associated with general anesthesia (for example, heart and lung problems), and reaction to medications.

Risks specifically related to the mastectomy itself are numbness of the breast skin and necrosis (tissue death) of the breast skin. The numbness requires no treatment. Necrosis of the skin may require a return to the operating room for revision of the scar.

Risks specifically related to mastectomy in which the lymph nodes in the armpit (axillary lymph nodes) are removed include swelling of the arm (called lymphedema) and possible injury to the nerves in the armpit area.

Mastectomy Results

If breast cancer is detected in its earliest stage, treatment results in a 10-year survival rate (that is, percent of women still living) was 82 % of 2011. Long-term survival is similar whether the woman chooses lumpectomy or mastectomy. The difference between the treatments is there is an increased risk of a local recurrence (in the breast or on the chest wall) with lumpectomy. Also, lumpectomy is almost always followed by radiation therapy.

  • Self-examination of the breast and an annual mammography help in the early detection of breast cancer.
  • In the United States, yearly mammography screening is recommended for women older than 40 years.
  • In addition to mastectomy, treatments such as hormonal therapy, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy (if required) improve the chances of recurrence-free, long-term survival.

When to Seek Medical Care Following a Mastectomy

A woman should contact a health-care provider if any of the following occur after a mastectomy:

  • fever,
  • signs of an infection (such as excessive redness at the incision site),
  • increased drainage of fluid, or
  • the stitches come out.

Mastectomy Support and Counseling

A woman who undergoes a mastectomy has to deal with not only the stress of coping with the cancer but also the anguish of losing her breast. Interacting with other women who have undergone mastectomies can help in dealing with these feelings. If a woman lives in the United States, she can locate the Reach to Recovery program in her area at the Web site of the American Cancer Society, Support for Survivors and Patients, Reach to Recovery.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/21/2015
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