After surgery for DCIS

Most women go home the same day or day after surgery. If you have mastectomy and breast reconstruction you will be in hospital for up to 5 days.

After surgery you’ll be given regular painkillers to control any pain.  If you have a tube draining fluid from the wound it’s usually removed after a few days. Before you go home your nurse will explain how to care for your wound.

After a mastectomy you’ll be shown exercises to reduce shoulder or arm stiffness. Any numbness and tingling in your arm usually improves over time. If fluid builds up around the wound, your nurse can drain it off with a needle and syringe.

At first, the operation area will be swollen and bruised. The scar will depend on the type of operation and will fade over time.

A change in your appearance may affect your confidence. Your nurse can support you with this. Breast reconstruction may help some women feel more confident.

If you don’t have reconstruction, you can wear a false breast (prosthesis) that matches the size and shape of your other breast.

Time in hospital

Your recovery after surgery will depend on the type of operation you have.

Most women who have breast cancer surgery can go home the same day or the following day. But if you have breast reconstruction at the same time as a mastectomy, you will be in hospital for longer (1–5 days). This will depend on the type of reconstruction operation you have.

After the operation

You’ll be encouraged to get out of bed and start moving around as soon as possible after your operation.


Your wound

You’ll have a dressing covering your wound, which may be left undisturbed for the first few days. The nurses will tell you how to look after it when you go home.

How long it takes to heal depends on the operation you had. If you only had a small area of tissue removed, your wound 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. For some women, particularly those who smoke, the wound can be slower to heal and may need further attention from your surgeon. Let your doctor know if you are concerned about how your wound is healing.

Wound infection can be a complication of surgery. Signs of infection can include warmth, redness, swelling around the wound or discharge from it. You may also feel unwell with a high temperature. Tell your nurse or doctor if you get any of these symptoms, even after you go home.


Drains

You may have a long, thin plastic tube at the wound site that drains fluid from your wound into a bottle. If you have had a mastectomy, it is usually left in until it stops draining, which may take a few days. You can go home with the drain. A practice nurse or a district nurse may check it when you’re at home. Or you might have it checked and removed at the hospital.


Pain

You may have some pain around the wound. 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 or cause any side effects.


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 need to drain it off with a needle and syringe.


Stiff shoulder or arm

After a mastectomy or sentinel lymph node biopsy, your shoulder or arm may feel sore or stiff. It’s important to do the arm exercises that your physiotherapist or nurse shows you. This will help improve the movement in your shoulder and 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.


Numbness and tingling in the breast area and arm

It’s not common to have problems with your arm because the lymph nodes in the armpit aren’t usually removed. However, most women who have had a mastectomy will have changes in sensation in the area of the breast and in the upper arm. This is because the nerves in the area have been affected by the surgery. This numbness and tingling usually gets better within a few months, but occasionally the changes, mainly numbness, can be permanent.


How your breast looks

It is common to have swelling and bruising after your operation. It should improve after a few weeks, but let your breast care nurse know if it doesn’t. Wearing a crop top or sports bra might feel more comfortable until the swelling settles. If you had an SLNB, you may see the blue dye in the skin for a while, but this is normal.

Scars

After breast-conserving surgery the scar is usually small and in the area where the cancer was, depending on where the surgeon makes the cut (incision). A mastectomy scar is across the skin of the chest and into the armpit. After surgery to the lymph nodes, the scar is in the armpit and shouldn’t be noticeable from the front.

To begin with, your scar will be red if you have white skin, or darker if you have dark skin. It will 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. If you are worried about your scar, talk to your breast care nurse or surgeon. We have more information about scarring after breast reconstruction.


Coping with a changed appearance

The first time you look at your breast or chest area after your operation, you may prefer to be alone or you may like to have someone with you.

At first, the area will look swollen and bruised, but this will settle in the next few weeks. In time, the scar becomes less obvious. If you have had a mastectomy you may notice extra tissue at the ends of the wounds. These often settle with time, but if they don’t a second simple operation can flatten them out. After a wide local excision some women notice over time that the treated breast becomes smaller and does not match the other breast.

Changes to your appearance can affect your confidence and feelings about yourself as a woman. They can also affect your sex life. Talk to your doctor or breast care nurse if you are unhappy about your appearance. Some women find that further surgery or breast reconstruction helps give them back their confidence and feelings of femininity.

I wouldn’t open the front door without a false breast in place. Subsequently, I have had a reconstruction and am much more confident about my body now.

Maggie


Breast prosthesis

If you have a mastectomy and don’t have breast reconstruction, your nurse will give you a soft, lightweight prosthesis (false breast) to wear inside your bra. It’s often called a ‘cumfie’ or ‘softie’. You can wear it straight after your operation.

When your wound has healed, you can choose a permanent prosthesis made of soft plastic (silicone). It will be matched to the size and shape of your other breast and your skin colour. Many women find their confidence gradually improves as they get used to it.

You can get different types of prosthesis from the NHS. Breast Cancer Care can also give you a list of suppliers.

Back to Surgery explained