What is a Mastectomy and the Physical Changes That Come Along With It
Aug 10, 2023
Mastectomy is a surgical procedure where one or both breasts are removed, often as a treatment for breast cancer. This procedure has a significant impact on a person's physical appearance and overall well-being. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the world of mastectomy, explore the physical changes that accompany it, and provide valuable insights for individuals undergoing this journey.
What is a Mastectomy?
A mastectomy is a medical procedure aimed at treating breast cancer by removing breast tissue. It's typically recommended when other treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy aren't sufficient. The goal is to eliminate cancerous cells and reduce the risk of further spread.
Types of Mastectomy
There are various types of mastectomy, including:
- Simple or Total Mastectomy: Removal of the entire breast.
- Double Mastectomy: Removal of both breasts, usually to prevent cancer recurrence.
- Modified Radical Mastectomy: Removal of the breast and some lymph nodes.
- Skin-Sparing Mastectomy: Breast tissue removal while preserving the skin for reconstruction.
- Nipple-Sparing Mastectomy: Breast tissue removal while preserving the nipple and areola for reconstruction.
Physical Changes After Mastectomy
Undergoing a mastectomy leads to several physical changes, such as:
Scarring and Incision Healing
After the surgery, scars will develop at the incision sites. Over time, scars will fade, but initially, they may be red, raised, or sensitive. It's crucial to follow your surgeon's post-operative care instructions to ensure proper healing.
Changes in Breast Shape and Size
As breasts are removed, there will be an immediate change in size and shape. Many individuals choose breast reconstruction to regain a sense of normalcy. This can involve implants or tissue from other parts of the body.
Nipple and Areola Changes
Depending on the type of mastectomy, the nipple and areola may be removed or preserved. If they are removed, reconstruction options are available. However, reconstructed nipples may not have the same sensitivity as natural ones.
Removal of lymph nodes during mastectomy can result in lymphedema – a condition causing swelling in the arms. Physical therapy and exercise can help manage this risk.
Some individuals experience phantom sensations in the breast that was removed. This includes feeling pain, itching, or tingling even though the breast is no longer there.
Breast removal can affect posture due to changes in weight distribution. Physical therapy and exercises to strengthen the upper body can help counteract this.
The physical changes resulting from mastectomy can trigger a range of emotions, from grief to empowerment. Seeking support from loved ones, support groups, or therapists is essential during this time.
Coping with Physical Changes
Coping with the physical changes post-mastectomy involves both self-care and seeking professional support:
- Stay Hydrated and Nourished: A healthy diet promotes healing and overall well-being.
- Adopt a Skincare Routine: Nourish and protect scarred areas with recommended skincare products.
- Explore Breast Reconstruction: Consult with a surgeon about reconstruction options that suit you.
- Practice Physical Therapy: Engage in exercises to maintain flexibility and strength, reducing the risk of lymphedema.
- Embrace Emotional Support: Surround yourself with a supportive network, including friends, family, and therapists.
Can I choose not to have breast reconstruction?
Yes, the decision to undergo breast reconstruction is entirely personal. Some individuals opt not to have reconstruction and find comfort in prosthetics or embracing their new appearance.
How long does it take for scars to fade?
Scars typically start to fade a few months after surgery, but their appearance varies from person to person. Following proper scar care instructions can help expedite the process.
Will I regain sensation in the reconstructed breast?
While some sensation can return, it might not be the same as before. Nipple sensation, in particular, may be reduced or absent.
Can I participate in physical activities after mastectomy?
Yes, staying physically active is encouraged. However, it's advisable to consult your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise routine.
Will my risk of cancer return be reduced after mastectomy?
Mastectomy significantly reduces the risk of cancer recurrence, but it doesn't eliminate it entirely. Regular check-ups and screenings are essential.
How do I find a support group for mastectomy survivors?
You can find local support groups through hospitals, cancer centers, or online platforms dedicated to breast cancer awareness and support.
Undergoing a mastectomy is a life-altering experience that comes with physical changes, both expected and unexpected. Remember that you're not alone on this journey. Seek guidance from medical professionals, share your feelings with loved ones, and explore support networks to help you navigate the changes and embrace your new self.