Recovering from breast cancer surgery involves physical and emotional healing.
After surgery, you may feel relief that the cancer has been removed, but also worried if you’re still waiting for the results of your pathology tests. It’s common to struggle emotionally at first and need extra support from family and friends. Your breast care nurse and GP can also help with talking things through. Your GP can arrange counselling if you need it.
Before coming home from hospital make sure you’re clear about:
- how to care for your wound and any drains that are still in place
- driving (don’t forget to also check with your car insurance company in case they have any restrictions following an operation)
- symptoms to look out for that require medical attention
- any changes to your regular medication
- what kind of exercise you can do.
Returning to normal activities
Normally your surgeon or hospital staff will advise you to avoid strenuous activity or heavy lifting for 4 to 6 weeks following surgery. They’ll also encourage you to do regular light activity such as walking.
If your car seatbelt is uncomfortable or rubs, a small, thin cushion may be helpful.
You can normally resume sexual activity whenever you’re ready, but some things, like hugging, may be uncomfortable, as you may feel stiff and sore around the operated area for some weeks.
Your return to work will depend on the extent of your surgery and any additional treatments you may be having. Talk to your doctor or breast care nurse about when you can go back to work.
Physiotherapy. Your physiotherapist will give you arm and shoulder exercises to do after the drains have been removed from your wound. If you’re having radiotherapy after surgery it’s important to do these exercises so your shoulder doesn’t become too stiff.
Finding the right bra can help you feel better. For the first few weeks, you may need a soft bra that doesn’t rub on your scars. A simple, front-fastening bra may be easier to put on. Look for a bra with soft seams, a wide band underneath, adjustable straps, and no underwires. There are lingerie shops with specialist post-mastectomy bra fitters who can help you find a bra that fits comfortably and looks good.
Breast form prosthesis. If you’ve had a mastectomy without an immediate reconstruction, the breast care nurse may offer you a breast form to wear inside your bra. If you’ve decided against breast reconstruction surgery, the breast care nurse will arrange for you to be fitted with a permanent prosthesis after your scars have healed.
Check with your surgeon if it’s OK to resume your normal medications.
You’ll need to make a follow-up appointment for feedback on the pathology tests and results of your surgery. Your pathology report should available 7 to 10 days after surgery. Your doctor will review the report with you and discuss your need for additional treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormonal or targeted therapy.
Watching out for problems
Delayed complications from breast cancer surgery are unlikely but you should call your surgeon if experience:
- increased discharge from your wound
- redness, swelling or changes in the skin around your wound
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- swelling of your arm or chest.