After Mastectomy: What to Know
What Happens During Recovery?
After mastectomy, you may feel overwhelmed by the physical and emotional ramifications of diagnosis, surgery, and breast reconstruction. With hospital stays averaging three days or less, it’s important to know what to expect. Here are some brief checklists that may help guide your expectations through the process.
Before leaving the hospital, you’ll receive instructions on:
- Taking pain medication
- Caring for the bandage over your incision and, if still inserted, a surgical drain
- Managing stitches and staples (most stitches dissolve, while staples are removed later during an office visit)
- Recognizing signs of infection and lymphedema, the swelling of the soft tissues caused by fluid buildup
- Wearing a prosthesis or a bra (often depends on the type of surgery and time needed to heal).
When you get home:
- Recovery times vary, depending upon the type of surgery.
- Get plenty of rest. It’s normal to experience fatigue for several weeks after mastectomy.
- Take pain medication only as needed
- Take sponge baths until your doctor removes drains and/or sutures
- Ask for help — have friends and family pitch in around the house
In the months following mastectomy:
- As nerves regrow, you may experience phantom sensations or pain in the area around the mastectomy. Analgesics such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can usually take care of this.
- Expect some fatigue, although if it persists and remains constant, consult your physician.
- Throughout your recovery, it’s important to start exercising soon after surgery. Along with preventing arm and shoulder stiffness, exercise will keep the area limber and help initiate healing.
Your healthcare team should provide written, illustrated instructions for a routine tailored to your needs. Follow all post-operative instructions from your provider. The above checklist is for discussion only and should not replace your provider’s specific instructions for recovery after mastectomy.