Mastectomy: What to Expect

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If you're facing breast cancer, you may need a mastectomy. This is a surgery to remove breast tissue. At UVA Health, you'll find surgeons who are experts in the different types. These include:

  • Partial mastectomy or lumpectomy: a tumor and a small margin of surrounding breast tissue is removed
  • Simple mastectomy: the entire breast is removed
  • Modified radical mastectomy: entire breast and some lymph nodes in the armpit are removed, but chest muscles are left in place
  • Radical mastectomy: entire breast, lymph nodes, and chest muscle are removed (rarely done)

Reasons for a Mastectomy

You may have a mastectomy to:

  • Treat breast cancer
  • Prevent breast cancer if you have a family history of the disease and are at very high risk for breast cancer (occasionally done)
  • Treat severe side effects from previous treatment for breast cancer (rarely done)

Top Surgery for Trans Men

We also perform mastectomies for transgender men. Some trans men want to have surgery to make their chest look and feel male. Learn more about our gender-affirming surgery options.

What to Expect

Before the procedure, your doctor will perform a physical exam and order tests, including:

  • A mammogram: a test that uses low-dose X-rays to make a picture of breast tissue
  • Fine needle biopsy of the breast: a thin, hollow needle is used to remove a small tissue sample from the breast
  • Blood tests
  • Possibly a test to check to see if you're at risk for lymphedema, swelling of the arms or legs after removing lymph nodes.

During the procedure, your surgeon makes an oval-shaped incision in the breast and removes breast tissue, the nipple and areola. To do so, your surgeon cuts the tissue off of the underlying muscle. Your surgeon may need to remove nearby lymph nodes (toward the underarm). 

The procedure takes about 1-3 hours and you can expect to stay in the hospital between 1-3 days. Cancer rehab can help you get back to the activities you enjoy.