Recovering from surgery

After your operation, your nurse will encourage you to start moving around as soon as you can. They will give you advice about your wound, including how to look after dressings or any drains you may have. Your physiotherapist or nurse will show you exercises to help with shoulder or arm stiffness.

You may be able to go home the same day as your operation or the day after. You will have an appointment to come back to see your surgeon and breast care nurse. Try to take things easy for a while. It’s important to do the exercises you were shown in hospital and to gradually build up your levels of activity.

You may have some side effects after surgery such as numbness, tingling, fluid build-up or changes in sensation or movement. These should improve gradually. Some men have side effects for months or longer after their operation.

It’s common to have swelling and bruising on your chest after your operation. You will also have a scar, which will fade over time. If this affects your confidence you should talk to your doctor or nurse.

After your operation

You will be encouraged to start moving around as soon as possible after your operation. This can help reduce the risk of complications.


Your wound

You’ll have a dressing covering your wound, which may be left undisturbed for the first couple of days. The nurses will let you know how to look after it before you go home.

How long your wound takes to heal depends on the operation you had. If you only had a small area of tissue removed, it will usually heal quickly. If you don’t have stitches that dissolve, you will probably have your stitches removed about 7–10 days after your operation.


Infection

A wound infection can be a complication of surgery. Symptoms include redness, swelling, warmth or an increased discharge from the wound. Tell your nurse or doctor if you get any of these symptoms, even after you’ve left hospital.


Pain

You’ll probably have some pain around the wound and in your armpit if you had lymph nodes removed. This may last a few days. The nurses will give you painkillers to take regularly until it settles down. After a mastectomy, you may need to take them for a week or two. Let your doctor or nurse know if the painkillers aren’t helping. They can prescribe stronger ones for you to try.


Drains

You may have a long, thin plastic drainage tube coming from your wound. This is attached to a bottle that fluid from the wound drains into. It’s usually left in for 24 hours or until it stops draining, which may take a few days. You can go home with the drain. A district nurse or practice nurse may check it and remove it when you’re at home. Or you may go back to have it removed at the hospital.


Fluid collecting around the wound (seroma)

Fluid can build up in the area around the wound. This is called a seroma. It usually goes away within a few weeks. Sometimes your nurse or doctor may drain it off with a needle and syringe.


Stiff shoulder or arm

After a mastectomy or having lymph nodes removed, your shoulder or arm may feel stiff or sore.

It’s important to do the arm exercises that your physiotherapist or nurse shows you. This will help improve the movement in your shoulder or arm and reduce the risk of long-term problems. You should start the exercises the day after your operation and gradually build up what you can do.

Breast Cancer Care has information about these exercises.


Numbness and tingling in the upper arm

You may have numbness and tingling if nerves have been injured during the operation. This is more likely if you had all the lymph nodes in the armpit removed. It may slowly improve over several months but is sometimes permanent.


How your chest looks

It is common to have swelling and bruising after your operation. This should improve after a few weeks, but let your nurse know if it doesn’t. If you had a sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB), the dye may make your skin in that area look blue for a while, but this is normal.

After breast surgery there will be a scar across your chest in line with where your nipple used to be. There may also be a dent where the breast tissue has been removed.

To begin with, your scar may be red if you have white skin, or darker if you have dark skin. It may also be firm and slightly raised. Over time, it will flatten and fade. Everyone’s skin heals differently. If you have dark skin or fair, freckled skin, scars can take longer to settle and may be more noticeable for longer.

For some men this won’t be a problem at all. But, it can affect your confidence and how you feel about yourself as a man. If you are worried about changes in your appearance, talk to your breast care nurse or surgeon.

You may worry that your partner will be put off by your scars or a change in how your body looks. If you’re feeling self-conscious about how you look, talking with your partner or specialist nurse can help you feel more confident.

Reconstruction of the breast area is not commonly carried out for men as implants don’t give the right shape for men. But it may be possible to improve the appearance of the chest area with surgery. Your surgeon or breast care nurse can also discuss with you ways of recreating the appearance of a nipple.


Going home

Most men will go home on the day of their surgery or the day after. When you get home, take things easy for a while. How you feel depends on the operation you’ve had. It’s common to feel very tired, so try to have plenty of rest and eat well. Although you might feel you have recovered physically, you may continue to feel emotionally tired.

You may need to avoid lifting or carrying anything heavy for a few weeks. It’s important to carry on with the exercises you were shown in hospital. Try to do a bit more each day and rest in between so that you build up the amount that you do gradually.

Some insurance policies give specific time limits for not driving after surgery – so check this with your insurance company. Don’t drive unless you feel in full control of the car.

Before you leave hospital, you’ll be given an appointment to attend the outpatient clinic to see the surgeon and breast care nurse. At the clinic they will check that the wound is healing properly. They’ll also tell you the stage of the cancer. Your doctors will discuss with you any further treatment that you may need.

This is a good time for you to ask questions or talk to them about any problems you have.


Late effects

Some men may have problems with the effects of surgery for some months or longer after their operation. These are called late effects. Tell your breast care nurse if you have any of these or there’s anything you are worried about.

Back to Surgery explained

Who might I meet?

A team of specialists will plan your surgery. This will include a surgeon who specialises in your type of cancer.