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Pain Following Unilateral Mastectomy?

cynthia7138 Member Posts: 8

Hi all--having unilateral mastectomy on Tuesday, wondering what to expect, pain-wise. For context, over the past year I've undergone three diagnostic mammograms (one that was attempting to visualize an area near the nipple was significantly painful, requiring me to do some mindful breathing and self-talk exercises), two biopsies, two lumpectomies, and a breast reduction on the unaffected breast (yeah, it's been a heck of a year). For all of the surgeries, I used no opioids afterwards and managed well with tylenol and then tylenol/advil alternating. The breast reduction was the most painful one to wake up from (felt like someone had been punching me in the chest for hours) but that seemed to respond well and quickly to tylenol. I declined a nerve block before that one.

My question for anyone who's had a uni- or bilateral mastectomy--how painful was it? what did you do/take? I really, really want to avoid opiods and a nerve block if possible, but I don't know if I'm being overconfident about my pain threshold. To be clear, it's not a pride/macho thing--I took the epidural when I delivered my kids! But so far, nothing I've experienced yet has even remotely approach the pain of labor contractions, and like I said, I really don't want to take opiods if I can avoid it, and I'd like the skip the nerve block too if it's offered. Any experiences anyone wants to share will be gratefully considered!

Cynthia (age 56, DCIS stage 0 scattered throughout left breast, two lumpectomies with persistently positive margins)


  • tntnsd
    tntnsd Member Posts: 124


    I had my unilateral mastectomy on February 2021. I went home that afternoon the same day ( had surgery in the morning) with prescription for hydro oxycodone and over counter Tylenol extra strength. I only had to use 1 pill of oxycodone on the second day. Still had my oxycodone till today ( minus 1 pill).

    From my experience, listen to your body, don't try to lift your arm on that side ( and also go easy on the affected side), and you will be fine with just Tylenol/Advil extra strength

  • jh40
    jh40 Member Posts: 140

    cynthia7138 - I had a unilateral mastectomy in June with an aesthetic flat closure, no reconstruction. I'm not sure if you're planning to have reconstruction or not?

    I had no pain whatsoever afterward. It was unbelievable because I expected to be in some level of pain, but there was none. Tenderness and swelling, yes, but pain no.

    I went in for surgery at 6am and was discharged around 1pm. I was like you and wanted to avoid taking opioids at all costs. I was fortunate not to need them. I think I took Tylenol or Advil one time and it was during a moment when I thought I felt something coming on, but it turned out to be nothing.

    The only pain I ever experienced was during stretching, and it was pain that I used as a guide for how far I should go. Your surgeon should advise you about this. Mine did not, and there are some other ladies on here who didn't get much advice about stretching either. There are some threads on this forum you can look up if you're interested.

    For me, stretching was very important to regaining complete range of motion/movement and I began gentle stretching pretty much immediately after surgery. I had full range of motion back within a few weeks after surgery. Again, your surgeon should advise on this and hopefully will. If they do not, I would definitely ask about it.

  • cynthia7138
    cynthia7138 Member Posts: 8

    This is so helpful--yes, I should have mentioned, flat closure & no reconstruction. I'm being told one night in the hospital which I really don't want to do, so it's great to hear that it's possible to maybe go home that day (that's my preference).

  • lw422
    lw422 Member Posts: 1,404

    Cynthia--I had a unilateral and ALND; I spent one night in the hospital. I never needed anything more than tylenol. Please do ask your doctor for guidance on movement/stretching after surgery. I was advised to not raise my arm higher than my shoulder until after the drains came out, and to not lift more than 5 pounds. The worst part of my recovery was the lymph node dissection; it continues to plague me with tightness and random pains but nothing unbearable. Good luck to you and take care.

  • cynthia7138
    cynthia7138 Member Posts: 8

    Hi--thank you all again for sharing your experiences. I had my surgery yesterday: unilateral (flat closure) and SNB. I found the pain very tolerable and Tylenol has been fine for managing it. They may have given me oxycodone intravenously in the first recovery room? Not sure about that. I was offered a nerve block before the surgery and declined it. I spent one night at the hospital and was released this morning. Glad to be home and now just waiting for pathology report!

  • brinkofeternity
    brinkofeternity Member Posts: 181

    That’s great to hear! My recovery from UMX was quite smooth too. I think the only issue I had was when I got ambitious a few days after and started folding loads of laundry, then I had more drain output that day… So do take it easy!