What to Expect After Surgery for Breast Cancer
Surgery for breast cancer will have a range of physical implications depending on which type of surgery you have. There are three choices:
- Breast sparing surgery (commonly referred to as a lumpectomy)
- Bilateral mastectomy
Your recovery and outcome will be different for each.
Breast sparing surgery (commonly referred to as a lumpectomy)
As the name lumpectomy suggests, removing the tumor is the focus of this type of surgery. It will be removed, along with surrounding tissue, known as the surgical margin, in an effort to remove all the cancerous cells from the body. This is a good option for younger women still in their childbearing years, those with small tumors, and those who are very concerned about their body image. The tumor will be examined to determine what stage and type of cancer it is. Then you will be able to decide on further treatment.
If the cancer is larger, there is concern about the samples after a lumpectomy, or there is more than one lump in the breast, the breast will be removed completely. In many cases, lymph nodes, that is, nodes which are part of the immune system, might also be removed to determine if they have been affect by the cancer. They will be removed from the chest and perhaps up into the underarm.
A bilateral mastectomy is the removal of both breasts. This is will be done if there is a history of breast cancer in the family and the breasts tend to be ‘lumpy’, or as a preventive measure to ensure no breast cancer ever progresses.
Depending on the kind of surgery, you will have varying recovery times. With a lumpectomy, this should be a fairly quick procedure and you should be healed within 2 weeks. You won’t be able to shower or get the incision wet for about a week after and need to follow your doctor’s wound care and physical activity instructions. For example, you will have a drain in your chest for about 1 week after surgery, to collect and remove fluids. You will need to care for it and be on constant lookout for infection.
With a mastectomy, it will take around 3 to 4 weeks to heal. The same rules as above will apply.
You won’t be able to drive for about two weeks after surgery. Gentle rehabilitation exercises will be provided.
If you have had breast reconstruction surgery with the mastectomy, you may be sore in other places where they have obtained the skin to construct the new ‘breast’, which will then be filled with silicone or saline. You will also have to tend to those wound sites as well.
Surgery for breast cancer can be tough to recover from, but it is the first step to being cancer-free.