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.

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Tubes and dressings

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.


Movement

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.


Pain

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.


Sense of loss

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.


Exercising your arm

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.


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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.

Recovery time

Recovery time
The time it takes to recover from breast
surgery varies. Most people start to feel
better within about two weeks.

Get help

Get help
Ask friends or family to help you out while you recover, e.g. with household chores, meals or errands.

Rest up

Rest up
Get plenty of rest in the first few days after being discharged from hospital. Take it easy and do only what is comfortable.

Resuming activities

Resuming activities
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.

Follow-up

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.

Bathe carefully icon

Bathe carefully
Keep the wound clean, and gently pat it dry after showering.

confort first icon

Comfort first
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.

Avoid cuts
Talk to your treatment team if you want to shave your armpits. They may advise you to wait for a time.

Moisturise icon

Moisturise
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.


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Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

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Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=help_search_1-1?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200767340&qid=1395967989&sr=1-1
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This information was last reviewed in August 2018
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Cancer information

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