After you undergo a mastectomy, your doctor will insert surgical drains to suction out fluid in the space where the tumor and breast tissue were. Sometimes, drains are also put in for lumpectomies.
Surgical drains are long rubber tubes that have plastic bulbs on the ends that hang down outside your body. The bulbs create suction and allow the fluid building up in your breast area to easily drain. The incision where the tubes enter your body will be stitched close, and the drains will be left in for at least a couple of days and up to a couple of weeks. You’ll have to empty the drains regularly, and keep the incision site clean and dry to avoid infection.
Then, your surgeon will remove them. The process itself is quick — less than a couple minutes — but the levels of pain patients experience vary. Some people feel nothing during the drain removal but a tug, while others experience pain ranging from slight to severe.
Hear straight from followers of The Breast Cancer Site Facebook page about what it felt like for them. First, we’ll start with the painful…
(NOTE: Some comments have been edited for grammar or clarity.)
The Painful Experiences
10. A quick second
“Felt like my whole insides were being pulled out!! I screamed really loud! But pain only lasted a quick second! I was just overjoyed to get those things out! It was bad, but certainly not the worse pain I’ve ever felt!!” – Sharon
9. It’s insane
“It’s incredibly PAINFUL!!!!! Never experienced anything like it in my life !! They snip the stitches , then tell you to take a deep breath and the nurse just pulls them out !!!! It’s insane , I hurt for two days after mine were taken out , that burning searing pain I’ll never ever ever forget.
“It was so intense that when they pulled my right side I threw up. I had talked to other ladies and no one I talked to had this experience, they were all shocked , but my left side wasn’t removed at the same time , it was removed two weeks later and it was just as bad. My anxiety kicked in when she had me lay back to remove them… I know when they took out the right side I bled for a full day , the left side I only bled for about 6 hrs. I had dime size clots coming from both sides and they said that was normal and still took them out 💔😢” – Starla
“Mine burned when they pulled them out.” – Caryn
7. Years later…
“Ten yrs later I still have stabbing pain where my drain was.” – Dixie
6. Depends on who does it
“I really think it depends on who is doing the removing. I had a bad experience with my first drain removal. The Dr in that day wasn’t in the room, he had the intern do it. Well this guy had never done it nor seen I done. He left and asked the Dr the procedure then came back in. He grasped it then gave an almighty yank, it slipped out of his hand so didn’t come out but the shock and pain that went through my body… I swore never again. I left the office drains still intact. Got home cut my own stitch on each one and proceeded to slowly remove each one. Doing it myself I didn’t feel anything but an odd sensation of movement. Mind you when my Doctor was back in town for my next appt I had an earful for him.” – Stacey
5. Drains AKA Grenades
“I had 3 removed after the radical left mastectomy, one of which was rapidly ripped out painfully. I required the others to be pulled out gently. After the right mastectomy, latismus muscle moved to the front, and expanders placed, I had 5 drains. One caused me to go into shock because it moved out of position. I hate those drains a.k.a. granades.” – Elaine
4. Why is this unmedicated?
“Most painful thing to ever get done and they don’t numb you either for the removal 😢😵” – Kerri
3. Made my husband cry
“The worst pain ever… my husband even cried because of how loud I screamed…” – Samantha
2. We didn’t know what we were doing
“DM 10/12. The hard part was the first time my boyfriend emptied the drain. Oh my Godness. We didn’t know what we were doing and when I screamed and almost hit the ceiling I knew it was wrong. We got it and he did a great job every time after. When they came out I was so scared but it felt very strange and a little pain. Just breathe through it. Best of health to us all ❤😁” – Bethel
1. May have been infected
“I had 3. First one didn’t hurt, second one I felt a lil more, the last one hurt. I think it was infected a little bit. Once they were all out, all the pain I felt was gone.” – Laura
The Painless Experiences
11. It tickles!
“I am so sorry for all who experienced pain when having their tubes removed. I had just the opposite experience, when mine was removed, it tickled! I was expecting terrible pain, but was pleased when my wonderful surgeon pulled it out.” – Marilyn
10. “It’s done.”
“I was scared to death to have it removed. I told him too. He said …it’s done. Lol didn’t feel a thing. Reconstruction was uncomfortable. But worth it in the end like anything else that’s hard.” – Rose
9. Pleasantly surprised
“I only had two after a bilateral mastectomy and it wasn’t bad at all. Just felt weird moving through my body. And one had to release the suction so there was a little pop. I was prepared for more pain and was pleasantly surprised that it was pain free. My problem was my muscles clinching for weeks afterwards.” – D’Layne
8. Didn’t expect that
“It doesn’t hurt. One of mine fell out by itself. That scared me. Didn’t expect that. (I had six drains).” – Sue
7. Kinda gross…
“I too had no pain at all upon removal. I was expecting it to feel funny or be painful but I couldn’t even feel anything. More grossed out as to the amount of tubing they pulled out! Good luck and don’t stress about this. It was really nothing.” – LuAnn
6. What a mess
“She pulled it out so fast I never felt a thing with mine, but what a mess. Still kept draining thru bandages and 2 shirts and a jacket… ewww I remember it like it was yesterday….” – Therese
5. No trouble at all
“I had no problem with my drains. 5 of them. 3 on one side, 2 on the other. No problem emptying them, milking them, and no pain when they were removed. I did hurt a tiny bit the day after one was removed, but other than that, no trouble at all.” – Florence
4. Deep breath
“Take a deep breath in and exhale as its pulled out… not that bad” – Sharon
3. Thank you, doctors!
“Never had a minute of pain or discomfort. It was uncomfortable when the tubes were removed but not too bad. The Dr told me to cough, I did and they were out. I have scars but better have the scars than not having a life. Thank God we are still here with our families and a huge thankful to my Drs, they were amazing, it’s been almost 9 years.” – Judi
2. Like a snake
“It felt weird. Kind of like a snake wriggling out. No pain though.” – Claudia
“What’s the big deal? I didn’t mind having mine removed at all. And that was over 41 years ago.” – Valeda
Lastly, some advice…
“My best advice is to take all of this with a grain of salt. Some people have very low pain tolerance and it really depends on your mindset as well. Not that any of these women are weak or wrong just different. You will be fine. Mine went off without a hitch. Pain was minimal and a further procedures have been the same. Attitude in your journey is my best advice. Keep your life as normal as possible. I went to work nearly every day through the chemo, radiation etc. Took time off for the surgery but right back to work. You can do this. Push that fear to the back and focus on keeping a positive attitude. That’s what did it for me! Best of luck.” – LuAnn
C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.