Breast cancer: Emma's story

Emma Duncan, 33, talks about her experience of having breast cancer.

Media last reviewed: 02/10/2013

Next review due: 02/10/2015

How common are mastectomies?

In 2010-11, more than 18,000 mastectomies were carried out in England, of which just over 1,000 were for men.

There were also more than 2,000 breast reconstruction operations in this period.

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Plastic surgeon Chris Caddy explains breast reconstruction surgery after cancer, including how and when it is carried out

A mastectomy is an operation to remove the breast.

It is usually used as a treatment for breast cancer in women or breast cancer in men. It may also be used as a way to reduce the risk of cancer developing in the breast.

If your GP refers you urgently because they think you have cancer, you have the right to be seen by a specialist within two weeks.

Read more about NHS waiting times for treatment and why mastectomies are used.

How are mastectomies carried out?

Before having a mastectomy you will have the opportunity to discuss the operation with a specialist nurse or surgeon. This may include things like possible complications, the option of breast reconstruction or the type of mastectomy you will have.

You may also need to have chemotherapy or hormone therapy to reduce the size of any tumours before the operation.

There are several different types of mastectomy. The type of surgery recommended for you will depend on things such as how much the cancer has spread.

All types of mastectomy use general anaesthetic and involve making a cut (incision) either diagonally or horizontally across your breast so that the breast tissue can be removed.

Breast reconstruction

After your breast has been removed, you may choose to have a breast reconstruction. This involves creating an artificial breast to replace the breast or breasts that have been removed.

It is sometimes possible for a breast reconstruction to be carried out at the same time as a mastectomy, but it can be delayed until a later date if necessary.

Read more about getting ready for a mastectomy and how a mastectomy is performed.

After surgery

Mastectomies are very safe procedures with minimal complications. Most people recover well and it's common to only stay in hospital for one night, although some people will need to spend a few days in hospital. Generally, it takes between three and six weeks to fully recover.

During the early stages of recovery you may have tubes coming from the wound. These are used to drain away blood and fluids to help prevent swelling or infection. Your scar and stitches will be covered by a dressing.

It is common to experience pain, numbness, tingling and swelling after a mastectomy, but painkillers should offer some relief.

In rare cases, more serious complications can develop as the result of a mastectomy, including infection of the wound and delayed healing.

Read more about recovering from a mastectomy and the possible complications of mastectomy.

Page last reviewed: 18/12/2012

Next review due: 18/12/2014


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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Goldtopia said on 02 October 2012

The report is incomplete. There is no mention of the type of drugs or duration and side effects, if any, after having a mastectomy. It would be helpful of this could be included.

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