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What is a mastectomy?

Treatment for breast cancer often involves surgery to remove part or all of the breast. When the whole breast is surgically removed (usually including the skin and nipple) it is called a mastectomy.

Double mastectomy

If both breasts are removed it is called a double mastectomy. Sometimes the surgeon may be able to perform a nipple-sparing mastectomy.

When would you need a mastectomy?

A mastectomy may be recommended if:

  • the size of the cancer is large in comparison to your breast
  • there is more than one cancer in your breast
  • cancer has returned to the same breast
  • you have previously had radiotherapy to the same breast.

A mastectomy usually takes one-to-two hours, with up to a week or more for recovery depending on individual circumstances.

Recovery after a mastectomy

After a mastectomy, you are likely to stay in hospital between one day and one week, depending on how you are recovering. If you have breast reconstruction at the same time as the mastectomy, surgery will probably take longer.

Side effects of a mastectomy

It is a good idea to discuss potential side effects from a mastectomy with your doctor, as most can be managed or even prevented. Side effects may include:

  • fatigue
  • numbness and tingling
  • stiffness in the shoulder
  • a build-up of fluid around the scar (seroma)
  • changes in sensation in the breast, nipple or arm
  • fluid build-up after lymph node removal (lymphoedema).

Breast reconstruction and breast prostheses

Breast reconstruction involves surgery in which a breast shape is created using an implant or skin, fat and muscle from another part of your body. Breast reconstruction can be performed at the same time as a mastectomy or at a later time.

Not all women have reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy. Some may choose to wear a synthetic breast, called a breast prosthesis. A prosthesis can take a partial-breast or full-breast form. A breast prosthesis can be attached to the skin or inserted into clothing such as a bra or swimwear. It is advisable to see a trained fitter to help you choose the best prosthesis and mastectomy bra.


Understanding Breast Cancer and Breast Prostheses and Reconstruction, Cancer Council Australia,  ?2014. Last medical review of source booklet: July 2014.

For more information

For support and information on cancer and cancer-related issues, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 (cost of a local call). This is a confidential service.


Includes additional information on treatment, making decisions around treatment and managing side effects of breast cancer treatment and recovery.

How you can help

You can support Cancer Council by:

  • volunteering your time
  • participating in an event or
  • making a donation to help fund our cancer research, education and support services.

This page was last updated on: Monday, October 30, 2017

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