What happens after surgery?

After risk-reducing breast surgery, you will usually be in hospital for a few days. There will be dressings on your wounds and tubes coming from them to drain extra blood or fluid. A nurse will remove the tubes after a few days. Fluid may build up around the wound. This usually improves within a few weeks but may need to be drained by a nurse or doctor.

You will be given painkillers to relieve any pain. It’s common to have some numbness or pins and needles across the chest or underneath the upper arms. This gradually improves but some numbness will remain.

Your wounds will take about six weeks to heal. Your surgeon or breast nurse will tell you when you can get back to your everyday activities.

You will have a follow-up appointment to check how you are recovering. This is a good time to discuss any concerns with your hospital team. You will no longer need breast screening after this operation. But you will be told how to check your breasts for changes and to contact your doctor or nurse if you have any concerns.

Recovery after risk-reducing breast surgery

During the operation you will have a drip (infusion) into a vein in the back of your hand or in your arm. The drip is to keep you hydrated and will continue for a short time after the operation. It will be removed when you’re drinking enough. If you’re having breast reconstruction surgery using your own tissue, you’ll also have a catheter to drain urine from your bladder. This will be taken out once you are able to get up and move around.

Pain

After your operation you may have some pain and discomfort around the wounds. This may continue for several weeks. You’ll be given painkillers and it’s important to take them regularly as prescribed. Let your nurses and the doctor know if you still have pain so that more effective painkillers can be given. Some painkillers can cause constipation.  Let your doctor know if you experience constipation. They will be able to prescribe medicines known as laxatives to help relieve constipation. Alternatively you can buy laxatives from your local chemist.

Wounds and drainage tubes

The mastectomy wound(s) will be covered by dressings. There will be a drainage tube or tubes coming out of the wound(s) attached to a small container to collect any excess blood/body fluid. This will be removed once the drainage has slowed. This is usually within a few days of the operation. After a risk-reducing mastectomy (with/without breast reconstruction) the wounds should heal completely within six weeks of surgery. Fluid can sometimes build up after the drain has been removed in the area around the wound. This is called a seroma. The fluid lessens with time and usually stops building up within a few weeks.  It may need to be drained off with a fine needle and syringe by your nurse or doctor.

Time in hospital

After mastectomy with reconstruction, you can usually expect to stay in hospital a few days but this may be longer depending on the type of reconstruction. If you have mastectomies without reconstruction your stay in hospital may be shorter. Your specialist team will be able to give you more information about how long you can expect to stay in hospital.

Recovery

This can take some time and will depend on the type of surgery you’ve had. Many women want to know when they can get back to doing everyday things like carrying the shopping or gardening. This will vary depending on the type of surgery you’ve had and how you feel. It’s a good idea to discuss this with your surgeon or breast care nurse.

Numbness

After a mastectomy, you’ll usually have some numbness or pins and needles across your chest/reconstructed breasts or underneath your upper arms. These symptoms improve over months to years but it’s usual to have some permanent numbness. You’ll find that you will adjust to this over time.

Driving

It’s usually fine to start driving again when you feel that you could safely do an emergency stop or move the steering wheel around suddenly, if necessary. Some women find that this is possible within a few weeks of the surgery and others find that it takes longer. Some insurance companies have specific guidelines about when you can drive again after an operation, so you should check this with your car insurance company.


Follow-up after risk-reducing breast surgery

After your surgery, you will have a follow-up appointment to check that your wounds have healed well and that your recovery is as expected. Your follow-up appointment will be a good time for you to talk to your hospital team about any concerns you may have.

You won’t need to have any further screening tests following risk-reducing breast surgery. However, you should still check your breast areas regularly for any new lumps as there is still a very small risk you may develop breast cancer.

If you notice any lumps, or are concerned about anything else, you should contact your doctor or nurse for advice.


Back to Risk-reducing breast surgery