What to expect after breast surgery
How long you stay in hospital will depend on the type of surgery you have and how well you recover. Most people can walk around and shower the day after surgery. If you have any questions about your recovery, ask the doctors and nurses caring for you. Many people are referred to a breast care nurse for information and support.
Learn more about:
- Tubes and dressings
- Sense of loss
- Exercising your arm
- What to expect when you get home
You may have one or more drainage tubes in place to remove fluid from the surgical site. These may remain in place for up to 10 days, depending on the type of surgery. A dressing will cover the wound to keep it clean, and it will usually be removed after about a week.
Some people are discharged from hospital with drains still in place, but this will depend on your situation and your doctor’s advice. Nursing staff will teach you how to manage the drains at home, or you may be referred to a community nurse or your GP.
While you are in hospital, you will be advised to move your legs when you are in bed to help prevent blood clots, and to get up and walk around when you are able. You may have to wear elastic (compression) stockings or use other devices to help prevent blood clots in the deep veins of your legs (deep vein thrombosis or DVT). Your doctor might also prescribe medicine that lowers the risk of clots.
You will be given pain relief through an intravenous (IV) drip, via an injection, or as tablets, and you will be given pain medicine when you go home. Any bruising and swelling at the surgery site will usually settle down in 2–3 weeks.
Breast surgery may change the appearance of your breast, and this can affect how you feel about yourself (self-image and self-esteem). You may feel a sense of loss if you’ve had a mastectomy and find that your sense of identity or femininity has been affected. It is normal to grieve the loss of your breast.
Talking to someone who has had breast surgery might be helpful. Cancer Connect may be able to link you to someone who has had a similar experience to you. You may also benefit from speaking with a counsellor or psychologist for emotional support and coping strategies. Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for details.
After surgery, ask your treatment team when you can slowly begin to exercise your arm and shoulder. This will help it feel better and get back to normal faster. Arm and shoulder exercises will also move any fluid that has collected near the surgical scar (seroma) and help to prevent lymphoedema.
For more on this, see Arm and shoulder exercises after surgery.
What to expect when you get home
Recovering from breast surgery will take time. If you need home nursing care, ask hospital staff about services that are available in your area.
The time it takes to recover from breast
surgery varies. Most people start to feel
better within about two weeks.
Ask friends or family to help you out while you recover, e.g. with household chores, meals or errands.
Get plenty of rest in the first few days after being discharged from hospital. Take it easy and do only what is comfortable.
Check with your surgeon and/or breast care nurse about when you can start doing your regular activities. For example, some surgeons tell you to avoid driving until the stitches are removed or until your arm is more agile.
|Seek advice and follow-up|
Talk to your surgeon and breast care nurse about the best way to look after the wound. Also, report any redness, pain, fever, swelling or wound discharge to your surgeon or breast care nurse.
Keep the wound clean, and gently pat it dry after showering.
If you want to wear a bra, choose a soft bra or crop top. A sterile gauze pad placed inside your bra may help with rubbing on any tender areas.
Talk to your treatment team if you want to shave your armpits. They may advise you to wait for a time.
Gently massage the area with moisturiser once the stitches have been removed and the wound has completely healed.
|Don’t use deodorant|
If the wound is under your arm, avoid using deodorant until it has completely healed.
Prof Christobel Saunders, Professor of Surgical Oncology and Head, Division of Surgery, The University of Western Australia, and Consultant Surgeon, Royal Perth, Fiona Stanley and St John of God Subiaco Hospitals, WA; Dr Marie-Frances Burke, Radiation Oncologist, Medical Director, Genesis CancerCare Queensland, QLD; Kylie Campbell, Breast Care Nurse and Clinical Lead, Murraylands, McGrath Foundation, SA; Carmen Heathcote, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Annmaree Mitchell, Consumer; Sarah Pratt, Nurse Coordinator, Breast Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Wendy Vincent, Breast Physician, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and Royal Hospital for Women, Randwick, NSW, and Clinical Director BreastScreen NSW, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW; A/Prof Nicholas Wilcken, Director of Medical Oncology, Westmead Hospital, and Co-ordinating Editor, Cochrane Breast Cancer Group, NSW. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title. This booklet is funded through the generosity of the people of Australia.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
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