You may not have any problems after surgery. But it can help to know what the more common problems are so that, if you do have any, they can be detected and treated early.
Once you’re home after your operation, check your wound(s) regularly. Tell your breast care nurse or doctor immediately if you have possible signs of infection, such as:
- increased redness or change in colour over the breast, around the scar area or both
- discharge (fluid being released) from the wound
- a fever (a temperature above 38°C or 100.4°F)
- uncontrollable shivering (rigors)
- you feel generally unwell.
Your doctor can prescribe antibiotics if needed.
If you are having breast cancer treatment
Chemotherapy reduces your ability to fight infection. If you have an immediate reconstruction your doctors will wait until your breast has healed before beginning chemotherapy.
If you feel unwell or have any signs of infection in your breast or elsewhere after starting chemotherapy it’s important to contact the chemotherapy team without delay for advice. Your chemotherapy nurse will give you information about signs of infection to look out for while you are having chemotherapy.
Bruising and bleeding
Bruising to the breast and donor site is very common after the operation and usually goes away after about three weeks.
Sometimes, after the operation, there can be bleeding and a build-up of blood (a haematoma) in the breast or donor site. If this happens, it is most likely in the first 24 hours after surgery and can cause swelling and pain. Sometimes another operation is needed to stop the bleeding.
Fluid under the wound (seroma)
After your surgery, it’s normal for some fluid to collect in the area around the wound (a seroma). You will have drains in place to take away this fluid. These are long, thin plastic tubes attached to vacuum drainage bottles. A nurse will remove these a few days after your operation. Sometimes, after the drains are taken out, fluid builds up under the wound. This may need to be drained by a surgeon or nurse, using a small needle and syringe.
Pain usually gets better in the weeks following surgery. But occasionally, women continue to have pain for months or even years after the operation. Pain that continues for a long time is called chronic pain. There are several different causes of chronic pain, and many of these can be treated. If you experience pain and it doesn’t improve, talk to your breast surgeon. They can do tests to find out the cause or recommend a treatment that may help.
Most scars following breast reconstruction heal normally and gradually fade with time. However, a small number of women may develop a keloid scar. These are caused by an overgrowth of tissue along the scars. They are wider than normal scars and often a different colour from normal skin. They are also raised above the normal skin. If you are worried about your scars after your surgery, talk to your surgeon.