A Breast Mastectomy is a medical procedure that involves the complete removal of the breast that has been affected by cancer. The surgical procedure is usually initiated for large, invasive breast cancers that are too dangerous to be treated by other forms of breast cancer treatment.
Mastectomy and Its Types
During a mastectomy, a doctor would surgically remove the entire breast along with the skin, breast tissue, areola and nipple. In this case, even the healthy tissue present in the breast is removed to prevent the malignant cancer from spreading to other parts of the body.
There are different types of mastectomy procedures that one needs to know about. These include the subcutaneous mastectomy procedure (the breast tissue is removed but the areola and nipple are left intact), the simple/total mastectomy procedure (the breast tissue, areola and nipple are removed), the modified radical mastectomy procedure (the entire breast and some lymph nodes from the underarm area are removed), and the radical mastectomy procedure (the entire breast tissue, the lymph nodes underneath the arms and the chest muscles are removed completely).
Complications That Arise Due To A Breast Mastectomy
The complications that arise from a Breast Mastectomy can depend on several factors like the type of the mastectomy chosen for the procedure, the severity of the condition and the patient’s body constraints etc. However, here are some of the more common symptoms that you need to be wary of before opting for a mastectomy.
Stiffness and Pain
In case of more serious types of mastectomy procedures like radical mastectomy where the entire breast and chest muscles are removed along with the connective lymph nodes under the arms, patients can experience anything from mild to stabbing pain in the chest and shoulder region afterwards.
This pain is usually experienced due to the removal of the lymph nodes and chest muscles which disrupt the normal functioning of the muscles and nerves present in the shoulders, arms and chest. Some patients may also experience a ‘phantom pain’ which they feel arises in the surgical area even after the removal of the entire breast. This so called ‘phantom pain’ would usually disappear on its own in a few days time.
Nerve Pain and Damage
The mastectomy procedure usually involves the removal of the breast tissue and the underlying skin. In addition to this, doctor would usually cut a few nerves located inside and around the breast to prevent the disease from spreading.
The loss of these nerves would tend to cause a feeling of numbness in the skin in and around the surgical site. This numbness can persist for many months and could also be accompanied by shooting pains that eventually reduce to dull aches as time passes. Nevertheless, the numbness and pain experienced in and around the breast area after a mastectomy could be quite uncomfortable and could last up to a year in certain cases.
During a mastectomy, the doctor would cut away the breast and sever a few lymph nodes in the process to prevent the spread of the disease. The severed lymph nodes would disrupt the otherwise normal flow of lymphatic fluid to and from the arms. This in turn would lead to the collection of lymphatic fluid under the arms and near the affected tissues, a condition that would cause swelling, discomfort and pain in the arms and chest area.
Although a certain amount of lymphedema is expected and is considered quite normal after a general mastectomy, in certain cases the complication would become too severe to handle and could last up to six weeks after a mastectomy. In some cases, women who have undergone mastectomy could experience painless lymphedema for about two years after the procedure.
Other Risks and Complications
There are certain risks associated with breast mastectomies that are common in other surgical procedures as well. These include issues like heavy blood loss, formation of blood clots in and around the surgical site, respiratory issues, strokes/heart attacks, allergic side reactions to the medications used or infections that can develop in and around the surgical site and can travel to other parts of the body, including the bladder, lungs and kidneys etc.