After surgery for DCIS
Your recovery after surgery will depend on the type of operation you have.
Time in hospital
After a wide local excision (WLE), you’ll probably only be in hospital for a day. Most women have their surgery done as a day case and go home on the same day.
If you have a mastectomy, you’ll usually be in hospital for 2–3 days, although sometimes you may only have to stay overnight. If you’re having breast reconstruction at the same time, you may be in hospital for up to a week.
If you have both breasts reshaped, you are usually kept in hospital overnight.
After the operation
You’ll be encouraged to get out of bed and start moving around as soon as possible.
You may have a long, thin, plastic tube attached to a bottle (a drain) to take fluid away from the wound. This is usually removed a few days after the operation. Some women go home with the drain in and come back to hospital to have it removed. A district nurse can also remove it for you at home.
If you’ve had a mastectomy, you may have a drip (infusion) in your arm to give you fluids for a short time after the operation. It will be removed once you’re drinking fluids yourself.
Pain or soreness
For the first few days, you’ll probably have some pain or discomfort around your wound and under your arm if you’ve had lymph nodes removed. You’ll be given painkillers to take regularly until it settles down. If you still have pain, let your doctor or nurse know so they can prescribe stronger painkillers.
After a mastectomy, you may have a PCA (patient-controlled analgesia) pump, which you can press to give yourself painkillers for the first few days. It’s usually attached to your drip.
Usually, any pain or discomfort goes away as the wound heals. Occasionally, some women continue to have pain in their breast and arm. Let your doctor know if this is a problem.
You’ll have a dressing covering your wound. This can be left on for the first few days. After this, you’ll usually have the dressings changed if there’s some leakage from the wound. If the wound is covered by strips (Steri-Strips™) these can be left in place until you return to hospital for your outpatient appointment.
If you had a small area of tissue removed, your wound will usually heal quickly and you can probably change the dressings yourself. Your nurse will show you how to do this. How long the wound takes to heal will depend on the type of operation you had and how much tissue has been removed.
If you smoke, your wound will take longer to heal and there will be a higher risk of problems, especially if you have a mastectomy with reconstruction. If you’re able to give up smoking, the earlier you can do it before the surgery the better.
Any drains will stay in until the amount of fluid draining from the wound has reduced. This may take 2–7 days. When you go home, your wound and drain (if it’s still in) can be checked by a district nurse. Or you may be asked to go back to the hospital every few days to have it checked. If you don’t have the type of stitches that dissolve, you’ll usually have your stitches removed about 7–10 days after your operation.
Sometimes, the wound can become infected. This is a possible complication of surgery. Symptoms include redness, swelling, warmth or increased discharge from the wound. Tell your nurse or doctor if you get any of these symptoms, even after you’ve left hospital. You may be given antibiotics before surgery to prevent an infection.
Fluid collecting around the wound
The area around the wound will be bruised at first. It may also be swollen and puffy for a while. This should gradually disappear over a few weeks.
It’s not uncommon for fluid to build up under the wound (known as a seroma). The fluid gradually lessens as it’s absorbed by the body and usually stops collecting within a few weeks. Sometimes, it may need to be drained off with a fine needle and syringe by your nurse or doctor.
Stiff shoulder or arm
You may have pain or stiffness in the shoulder or arm if you had a mastectomy or the sentinel lymph nodes in your armpit removed.
It’s important to do the arm exercises you’ve been shown by the physiotherapist or breast care nurse. This improves your range of movement and reduces the risk of long-term problems with pain in your shoulder or arm. You should start the exercises the day after your operation. As you recover, you’ll be able to gradually do more and increase your range of movement.
Breast Cancer Care can send you a leaflet that shows the exercises you can do.
Numbness and tingling in the breast area and arm
It’s not common to have problems with your arm, because the lymph nodes in your armpit aren’t usually removed. However, some women have changes in sensation in the breast and upper arm. This is because the nerves in the area have been damaged by the surgery. This usually gets better within a few months, but occasionally these sensations (most commonly the numbness) can become permanent.
All breast surgery leaves some type of scar. How your breast looks afterwards will depend on the operation you have.
Many women who’ve had wide local excision (WLE) are pleased with the appearance of their breast after any bruising or swelling has settled down. After WLE, you’ll usually have a small scar and sometimes a small dent in the breast.
If you’ve had a mastectomy or a lot of breast tissue removed, the change in your appearance can take more time to come to terms with. For some women, breast reconstruction helps to restore their self-confidence, feelings of femininity and sexual attractiveness.
After your operation, you may prefer to be alone when you see what your breasts look like for the first time. Or you may want the support of your partner, a family member or close friend, or your doctor or breast care nurse. After a few weeks, the swelling will go down and the bruising will fade. The scar will gradually become less obvious.
Any change to your appearance can affect your confidence and how you feel about yourself as a woman. You may worry that your partner will be put off by your scars. If you’re feeling self-conscious about how you look, talking with your partner or a close friend about how you feel can help you regain some confidence.
We have more information about possible effects on your sex life.
After a mastectomy, unless you’ve had breast reconstruction, you’ll be given a soft, lightweight prosthesis (false breast) that you can put inside your bra. This is sometimes called a ‘cumfie’ or ‘softie’. It’s designed to be worn immediately after the operation when the area feels tender. Your breast care team will arrange this for you.
When your wound has fully healed, you’ll be able to choose a permanent prosthesis. This is a false breast that closely matches the size and shape of your other breast and is worn inside your bra. It’s made of soft plastic (silicone) and feels flexible. Prostheses are available to match your skin colour. Several different types are available from the NHS, and Breast Cancer Care can give you a list of other places that stock them.
Back to top
Before you leave hospital, you’ll be given an appointment to attend the outpatient clinic so the surgeon can check your wound. This is a good time for you to ask questions or discuss any concerns you have with the breast care team.
At this appointment, your doctor will also discuss your pathology results with you. The tissue that was removed during your operation will have been examined under the microscope and x-rayed to make sure all areas of DCIS have been removed.
If you had WLE, your surgeon will explain whether the margins around the DCIS were clear, or whether you need another operation.
In 1 in 5 women (20%), a small area of invasive cancer is found along with the DCIS. Although this can be distressing news, it’s usually very early breast cancer, which can be treated successfully. If invasive cancer is found, you may have to have a second operation to do a sentinel lymph node biopsy.
We have more information about invasive breast cancer available in our section on breast cancer.
Taking care of yourself
Back to top
When you get home, it’s important to take things easy for a while. How you feel will depend on the type of operation you’ve had. Although your physical recovery might be quicker than you expected, you may feel emotionally exhausted.
Try to get plenty of rest and eat healthily. Taking some light exercise, such as short walks, can increase your energy levels and help you feel better.
You’ll be advised not to lift or carry anything heavy and not to drive for a few weeks. You can gradually do more as your wound heals. After a WLE, it may only take a couple of weeks to recover, but it will probably take longer if you had a mastectomy.
Don’t overdo things with your affected arm. Check with your breast care nurse if you’re not sure what you should and shouldn’t do. Remember to carry on with the exercises you were shown in hospital.
Some insurance policies give specific time limits for not driving after surgery, so you may need to check this with your insurance company. Most women are ready to drive about 2–4 weeks after their operation. Don’t drive unless you feel you have full control of the car, and you’d be able to safely do an emergency stop or move the steering wheel very suddenly if needed.
We have more information about some after effects and things you can do to help yourself in our after treatment section.