There are two general types of surgery for the treatment of breast cancer:
- Lumpectomies, where only the section of the breast affected by cancer is removed
- Mastectomies, where the entire breast is removed
With lumpectomies, you can normally go home on the same day of your operation.
For mastectomies, the average hospital stay is about three days — depending on whether you opt for breast reconstruction at the same time.
Breast Cancer Surgery: Dealing with the Pain
Pain medication is typically prescribed for both lumpectomies and mastectomies. A local anaesthetic may also be applied to the wound during the procedure to help with incision pain.
Your surgeon will advise you on pain management and what to expect.
Breast Cancer Surgery and Wound Management
You’ll leave the operating room with either a pad dressing or a clear sticky dressing. Your breast surgeon will normally ask you not to remove those yourself. The surgeon will do it at your first outpatient appointment and make sure there’s no infection.
To close your wound, either sutures (stitches) or surgical staples will be used. Most breast surgeons use stitches that dissolve over time after the operation. If yours are not disolvable, the surgeon will remove them during a follow-up visit.
Most wounds take several weeks to heal. Don’t be alarmed if the affected area is bruised and swollen. Again, your breast surgeon will advise you on what’s normal and what’s not.
The surgeon will insert a wound drain, if needed, to remove fluid from the wound. It will be inserted in either the breast area or in the armpit and will stay there until fluid stops accumulating. That’s normally a few days after the operation.
Breast Cancer Surgery: Eating and Drinking Afterwards
You’ll probably be more than a bit nauseous at first, and that’s okay. If needed, a drip will keep you nourished until you’re ready to eat. You’ll want to begin fluid intake by drinking water. After that is tolerated, other drinks can be allowed as well.
Eating will help get your energy back up, but don’t rush it. Be good to yourself and let your recovery proceed according to your own body’s needs and preferences.
Exercise After Breast Cancer Surgery
Arm exercises are a must after the operation. This is to prevent arm and shoulder stiffness on the side of the surgery. Your surgeon will typically remove some of the lymph notes from your armpit too. That’s to be sure the cancer hasn’t spread further than the breast.
You’ll be shown exercises to help your recovery. Some of the movements should be postponed until drains are removed, so be sure you understand exactly which ones you can do to get started.
Keep exercising long after your hospital stay. Though simple, exercises can help relieve pain, reduce swelling, and keep your arm and shoulder movement unimpeded.
Breast Cancer Surgery: Prostheses or Reconstruction?
Undergoing breast reconstruction surgery or being fitted with a prosthesis can help you look and feel whole again.
Breast prostheses come in many shapes, forms, and sizes. Typically, you’ll want lightweight, foam-filled breast prosthesis during the initial recovery period. It won’t put unnecessary pressure on your wound.
After your wound heals, you’ll probably want to switch to a silicone model. They weigh and feel much like natural breasts.
Breast Cancer Surgery: Staying Fit
Continue follow-up visits with your surgeon and get regular checkups to insure you remain cancer-free. Most recurrences occur within two years of the original surgery. Don’t stop being vigilant. You’re a survivor. You’re a fighter. Stay alert and strong.
Your breast cancer surgeon probably encouraged you to get a healthy diet and plenty of exercise before your surgery. Don’t stop afterwards. Keep it up to stay fit and regain health quicker.
The moment you leave surgery, statistically speaking, the worst is behind you. Many women use the breast cancer experience to propel them on to a healthier, happier life than ever before.
You can too.