- Cancer Information
- Managing side effects
- Breast prostheses and reconstruction
- Breast reconstruction
- What to expect after surgery
What to expect after breast surgery
The type of surgery you’ve had will affect the side effects you experience. Not all women have side effects, but most experience at least one.
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It’s natural to feel nervous when the bandages and dressings are first removed. The look of the reconstructed breast will improve as the bruising and swelling lessen. The appearance of a breast reconstruction using a tissue flap may take longer to settle.
Your self-esteem is likely to be affected, see Body image for ways to accept the changes in your body.
For any type of operation, you will be given pain relievers to ease your discomfort. You will also probably have small tubes inserted into the operation site so fluid can drain away.
If you have had a flap reconstruction, you will be sore in the area where the muscle and other tissue were taken, as well as in the breast area.
Sometimes the area will not heal well within the first week or so after surgery. This can be caused by infection, poor blood supply or problems with an implant.
Any infection must be treated to reduce the possibility of further complications. If an implant has been used, it might need to be taken out. It may be possible to have a new implant put in at a later date.
Blood may build up in or under the wound. This is called a haematoma, and it causes swelling and pain. A large haematoma may need to be removed by surgery.
In some cases, when drains have been removed, extra fluid collects in or under the wound. This is called a seroma, and it causes swelling and pain. It may need to be drained by a health professional using a needle. You can wear a special bra called a compression bra to help relieve the pain.
Everyone heals differently, and the final appearance of a scar will vary from woman to woman, even if the surgery is the same.
Most scars have a thickened, red appearance at first, but usually fade after about three months. Sometimes the scar stays thick and becomes itchy and uncomfortable. Let your surgeon know if you have other existing raised, irregular scars (sometimes called keloid scars), as this may show that you are prone to getting these types of scars.
Your surgeon or breast care nurse can advise you about treatments to reduce the discomfort. You may be able to have further surgery to improve the scar’s appearance.
Breast reconstruction doesn’t affect your ability to become pregnant or carry a baby. There is a small risk of having a hernia during pregnancy if you had an abdominal flap reconstruction. Your doctor will talk to you about any risks you may have.
It will not be possible to breastfeed with the reconstructed breast.
Most women can breastfeed successfully with their other breast, although this may be difficult if you have had a reduction surgery in this breast.
Talk to a breast care nurse or lactation consultant about any concerns you have about breastfeeding after a reconstruction.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
A/Prof Elisabeth Elder, Specialist Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon, Westmead Breast Cancer Institute and Clinical Associate Professor, The University of Sydney, NSW; Dragana Ceprnja, Senior Physiotherapist and Health Professional Educator, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Jan Davies, Consumer; Rosemerry Hodgkin, Consumer; Gillian Horton, Owner and Director, Colleen’s Lingerie and Swimwear, ACT; Ashleigh Mondolo, Clinical Nurse Consultant Breast Care Nurse, Mater Private Hospital South Brisbane, QLD; Dr Jane O’Brien, Specialist Oncoplastic Breast Cancer Surgeon, St Vincent’s Private Hospital, VIC; Moira Waters, Breast Care Nurse, Breast Cancer Care WA; Sharon Woolridge, Consumer; Rebecca Yeoh, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland.
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