What do you want to know about your surgery?

What are the implications of losing a breast or both breasts? Will it be painful? How long will I take to recover? When I get back to my normal day to day activities? Will I have scars? These are the questions that follow once a patient knows that they will need a mastectomy. People respond to the news of needing a mastectomy in many various ways. Some people want it as soon as possible, others delay as they are not sure that it is the right thing to do or they may be anxious or nervous about it. Everyone is different.

What are the implications of losing a breast or both breasts?

When you research a mastectomy it is very easy to become anxious. Whether about the operation, recovery or what you will look like after the surgery. Many people, organisations, doctors and surgeons will write about the topic but unfortunately what you read is not always accurate and can cause mixed emotions. The best way to understand the process is to listen to your options from your surgeon and to meet and talk with a person that has been through a similar experience or had a similar operation.

Will it be painful?

Very often there is more emotional than physical pain after a mastectomy. It is something new that one has to get used to. It takes time and everyone will go through their own recovery at their own rate. You may be happy, sad, teary or relieved. A whole wave of emotions may follow after having a mastectomy.

How long will I take to recover?

This will depend on the person, the type of operation and the circumstances that surround the patient. It takes a good few weeks to recover from a breast operation but again the emotional side may take longer than the physical side. Getting back to day to day activities will gradually increase and become easier with time. It is important to take time to recover and to not do too much too soon. If you rest in the beginning your recovery tends to be quicker. If you are very busy straight after your surgery and do not give yourself time to recover, the patient will tend to have a lot more aches and pains that may continue for a lot longer than usual.

Will I have scars? The answer is yes. If you have an operation, you will have a scar. Scars however, do not have to be associated with something bad. There are ways to minimise scars and each surgeon will have their own way of looking after wounds and scars. The emotional scars on the other hand may remain for quite some time. As we are all different, we will all heal in different ways. It is very important to ask for help if you need it. Whether speaking to a fellow patient, a psychologist, your GP or your medical team, it is important to communicate. It is a natural feeling to be anxious regarding a pending operation and even after the operation it remains important to communicate. Therefore speak to someone before your operation and have that person as a support during your operation and after your operation as you recover. Recovering mentally is a process that starts from the time that you are diagnosed.

Most importantly, try to stay positive! Surround yourself with positive, happy and supportive people that make you feel good. Do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it! A little bit of support goes a long way when needed.

Sr Lieske Wegelin

ABC - Advocates for Breast Cancer - Breast Course 4 Nurses

Lumps Aside: Other Warning Signs

warning signs of breast cancer

Over the past few days, we have told you how to check for changes in your breasts by doing regular breast self-examinations, but the problem is that breast lumps aren’t always detectable by feeling them by hand until they are at least 10 – 15mm in size. And, as we know, not all breast cancer presents as a lump.

So what else can you do to catch breast cancer as early as possible?


Here are some warning signs that will definitely help guide you:

  1. Pain in the breast or chest:
    Pay attention if you regularly experience an ache, throb, twinge or sharp stabbing pain. You’ll need to make sure that this is a new symptom, and not something that you experience as a normal part of your monthly cycle or PMS, but always get medical advice if you are not sure.
  2. Itchy breasts:
    This symptom, often associated with inflammatory breast cancer is often missed. If your breasts are extremely itchy, and no amount of creams or scratching makes the itch go away, then you need to get to a doctor. This itchiness is caused when fast-growing cancer cells block the normal flow of blood and lymph. Your skin may also feel scaly or look a bit like cellulite.
  3. Upper back, shoulder or neck pain:
    If tumour growth pushes backwards towards the spine then the pain from breast cancer will be felt in the back. It may feel like sore muscles or a pulled tendon — but it doesn’t go away. Bone pain feels like a deep ache or throbbing. If the pain does not go away in spite of treatment, then ask for a bone scan.
  4. Changes in breast shape, size or appearance:
    Tissue growth that is deep in the breast or hidden by dense breast tissue may change the shape of the breast without causing a noticeable lump, so it is important to be aware of what your breasts look like normally. Often this is first noticed by a partner, or you may find that your bra is not fitting in the way that it used to.
  5. A change in nipple appearance or sensitivity, or leaking nipples:
    One of the most common places that breast cancer occurs is just below the nipple. (This is also one of the most common warning signs for men with breast cancer.) You may notice that one of your nipples sticks up more than before, or it may be inverted or flattened. It may also have less sensitivity than normal. Watch out for any form of discharge (usually brown or bloody) from the nipple if you are not breastfeeding.
  6. Swelling or a lump in your armpit:
    The lymph nodes in your arm are where breast cancer often spreads first, and this area may feel tender even before a breast lump is big enough to be easily felt. Colds, flu and other infections may also cause this symptom, but if the infection has gone and the pain remains, then get medical advice.
  7. Red, ‘hot’ and/swollen breasts:
    If your breasts feel like they have a temperature and the skin is looking red or purpleish you definitely need to get medical advice. It may be mastitis, but if you are prescribed antibiotics and the symptoms persist, then you need to make sure that you get extra tests done.

This is why self breast examinations are absolutely critical in the early detection of breast cancer! How well do you know your breasts?