Psychological effects of mastectomy on a woman's feminine self-concept

J Nerv Ment Dis. 1977 Feb;164(2):77-87. doi: 10.1097/00005053-197702000-00001.


Previous literature on mastectomy indicates that the operation may be perceived by the patient as a threat to her feminity. Accordingly, the present study attempted to measure changes in body image, self-concept, and total self-image in mastectomy patients and two control groups (biopsy and surgical controls). Patients were given a questionnaire measuring the concepts in question three times: 1 day before surgery; 6 days after surgery; and 6 to 11 months later. There were distinctly different patterns of results for the three groups. Mastectomy patients did indeed evince a decline in body image and total self-image, but not until months after surgery. This was not unexpected in light of previous findings of massive denial in mastectomy patients. Immediately after surgery, this denial would be at its strongest, and it is feasible that it would take some months of reality testing until the denial is no longer a necessary defense. Biopsy patients showed a decline in body image and total self-image immediately after surgery, when their denial was no longer needed. Surgical control patients showed little overall change. Thus, mastectomy patients do appear to react to the operation with a decline in self-image, although this does not appear until some time after the operation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Attitude to Death
  • Biopsy
  • Body Image
  • Denial, Psychological
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Gender Identity*
  • Humans
  • Identification, Psychological*
  • Mastectomy / adverse effects*
  • Middle Aged
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Self Concept*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors