Breast Cancer: Post-Surgical Care

Health Monitor Staff
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After a mastectomy, lumpectomy or breast reconstruction, it’s important to follow your surgeon’s advice. In addition, these steps will help you stay healthy after breast cancer surgery.

Get rest: You’ll feel tired and sore, for about a week or two for implants and longer for flap procedures.

Take your medication: You’ll likely have pain and numbness around the incision and the chest. Take pain medication according to your surgeon’s instructions.

Watch bruising and swelling: It may take up to two months for bruising and swelling to go away. You’ll be given prescription painkillers for the discomfort, and your surgeon may recommend over-the-counter meds, too.

Care for wounds: Bandages should stay dry and clean. Your surgeon may remove the bandage at your next visit.

Deal with scars: Limit scarring by preventing infection. Keep wounds clean and change bandages according to your surgeon’s directions. You can also massage the scar area daily during the first year.

Take care of drains: You may leave the hospital with a drain that will remove fluid from the surgery site to an external collection device that you’ll have to empty. (Your nurse will show you how to care for the drain before you leave the hospital.) The amount of fluid draining will gradually decrease, and the color may change.

Help your incision heal: Keep it clean and dry. The incision may feel thick and tough as it heals. Soften the skin by massaging the area with a fragrance-free lotion that won’t irritate the skin.

Bathe with care: You’ll need to take sponge baths in the beginning since your incision site can’t get wet. You can bathe in a tub or use a handheld shower attachment to help keep the incision dry.

Be aware of odd sensations: It’s normal to have strange (known as phantom) feelings in the missing breast and affected arm as the nerves regrow.

Practice arm exercises: To help you regain mobility and prevent arm stiffness, your surgeon or nurse may show you stretching exercises such as arm lifts and arm swings. Ask any questions you may have.

Ask for help: Don’t do everything yourself. Ask friends and family to assist with laundry, chores, meals, carpools and more.

Be cautious: In the beginning, you’ll have to avoid heavy lifting, pushing and pulling. Follow your surgeon’s advice on when to resume these activities as well as sports and sex.

Seek support: It’s normal to be emotional after breast surgery. Try talking with a therapist or joining an in-person or online support group.

Beware of health issues: Watch for infection and fluid buildup. Contact your healthcare provider if you have redness or swelling near the surgical site, a foul-smelling discharge or a fever of 101° F or higher.

May 2013