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After your breast cancer operation

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After your breast cancer operation

This page tells you about getting over breast surgery. There is information about

 

 A quick guide to what's on this page

After breast cancer surgery

How long you stay in hospital depends on the type of surgery. After surgery to remove a lump or an area of your breast, you are likely to stay in hospital for just 1 or 2 days. After removal of the whole breast (a mastectomy) you usually stay in hospital for an extra day or so. After some types of breast reconstruction you may need to stay a little longer. 

It can be comfortable to wear loose clothing that doesn't press on the wound. The doctors and nurses will encourage you to move around as soon as possible. You may have soreness or discomfort for a while. But painkilling drugs can usually control the soreness well. If you do have pain, tell your nurse or GP as soon as possible so that they can adjust your painkillers if necessary.

Exercises

After a mastectomy or surgery to your armpit, your nurse will show you exercises to help you recover. Do the exercises until you have full movement back in your arm and shoulder.

Don't lift or carry anything heavy, or drive, while your scars heal up. Until your surgeon has given you the okay, don't do any housework (such as vacuuming, mopping or cleaning) with your affected arm.

Your false breast

If you have had the whole breast removed (a mastectomy), you'll have a lightweight artificial breast shape (prosthesis) to put inside your bra. After about 4 to 6 weeks you will be ready for your permanent prosthesis. Many types of artificial breast shapes are available free on the NHS. Your artificial breast shape sits inside your bra. Women who have had part of a breast removed can use a partial prosthesis or a shell prosthesis.

Possible problems after surgery

After surgery some women may have problems with wound infection, or with fluid collecting around the operation site (known as a seroma). Numbness or tingling in the upper arm is normal at first but should go after a few weeks or months. Swelling of the arm or hand is also normal at first, but needs treatment if it doesn't go away. If you are worried about any of these, contact your surgeon or breast care nurse.

 

You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating breast cancer section.

 

 Your stay in hospital

How long you stay in hospital depends on the type of surgery you have. After surgery to remove a lump or an area of your breast, you are likely to stay in hospital for just 1 or 2 days. After removal of the whole breast (a mastectomy) you usually stay in hospital for an extra day or so. After some types of breast reconstruction you may need to stay a little longer. 

It can be comfortable to wear loose clothing so that it doesn't press on the wound. The doctors and nurses will encourage you to move around as soon as possible after the operation. You may have soreness or discomfort for a while. But painkilling drugs can usually control the soreness well. If you do have pain, tell your nurse or GP as soon as possible so that they can adjust your painkillers if necessary.

 Exercises

After a mastectomy or if you have surgery to your armpit, your surgeon and nurse will ask you to do regular exercises to help you recover. Your arm may feel stiff on the side where your breast was removed. Simple arm exercises can help to

Give you back your full range of movement

Relive pain and stiffness

Reduce swelling

After surgery, do the exercises until you have full movement back in your arm and shoulder. Ideally, you should do these twice a day.

To start with, the exercises are quite gentle. The aim is to get your arm and shoulder moving as it was before the surgery. You can begin each session by circling your shoulders, to get the muscles moving. Other early exercises are brushing or combing your hair, putting your arms behind your back and touching your shoulder with your hand. As you get stronger and more confident, you can do more of the exercises and gradually increase the range of movements. 

free leaflet called Exercises after breast cancer shows the whole exercise programme you need to do.

Talk to your surgeon or breast nurse if you have ongoing problems with arm or shoulder pain, stiffness or swelling. You may need to see a physiotherapist, who can show you further exercises.

If you have had breast reconstruction surgery the exercises you do are different and depend upon the type of reconstruction you have had. There is separate information about exercises after reconstruction using a simple implant of tissue expander implant and about exercises after breast reconstruction surgery using muscle from your back in the section about breast reconstruction.

Below is a short video showing you how to do exercises after breast cancer surgery. Click on the arrow to watch it.

 

 

View a transcript of the video showing exercises after breast cancer surgery (opens in new window).

 Your false breast shape (prosthesis)

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