Dr. Wasif describes how long it generally takes a surgeon to check lymph nodes for cancer during a mastectomy and recalls the expected recovery time after a nipple-sparing mastectomy.
The lymph node procedure itself takes about half an hour to 45 minutes and we can get an answer right away. We do what is called a frozen section, which is like a snapshot of the lymph node. The pathologist can tell us while you are under anesthesia, whether or not the lymph node is negative or it’s positive. And if they are negative for any cancer, we leave the other ones behind. So your chances of getting lymphedema are diminished greatly, almost zero percent when we do that.
If there happens to be cancer in one of those central lymph nodes, it’s only then that we go ahead and take out the other lymph nodes. So then you do run a risk of lymphedema, which is still about 15 to 20%.
Everyone heals differently, but we have found that on average you can expect about a two to three week period in which yes, you will have swelling, you will be sore, your movement for the arm is going to be limited, and, you know, it’s usually a mild discomfort. Most women are still able to do everyday activity like feeding yourself, dressing yourself – that shouldn’t be a problem.
After about three weeks you can start some gentle exercise, and by that I mean light aerobic exercise, still no weight lifting. That can happen about after four to six weeks and by that time we find most women are back to what their baseline was.
About Dr. Nabil Wasif, M.D.:
Dr. Nabil Wasif, M.D., is a general surgeon at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, certified by the American Board of Surgery. He graduated from Aga Khan University Medical College in Pakistan and completed his residency in general surgeon at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Cornell in New York. His interests include surgical oncology, general surgery, GI oncology, breast cancer, melanoma, and sarcomas.