Recovering at home after breast reconstruction
You will need time to adjust to the change in your body and to see the reconstructed breast or breasts as your own. Looking at and touching your reconstructed breast(s) can often help.
Try to gradually build up the amount of times you look at and feel your breast(s). If you find this difficult or are avoiding looking at your breast(s), it is important to talk to your breast care nurse.
Your healthcare team can give you extra support if you need it.
Your wounds may feel itchy after your operation. But try not to scratch the healing skin. The itching will get better as the wounds heal. It usually takes about 6 weeks for wounds to heal fully.
Once your wounds have healed, most surgeons recommend you massage the scars over your reconstructed breast and at the donor site (if you have one). Do this with body oil or moisturiser at least once a day. Massaging along the length of the scars helps stop them sticking to tissue underneath. It can also help soften your scars. Your surgeon or breast care nurse can tell you what they recommend, and show you how much pressure to use.
After your operation, scars will be quite firm and may be slightly raised. If you have lighter skin they will be red, and if you have dark skin they will be darker. It can take from 18 months to 2 years for scars to settle and fade. Tell your doctor or specialist breast nurse if:
- the scars remain red and raised
- you have concerns about how your scars are healing.
There are specific scar treatments that can help the scars settle and fade.
It is very important to protect your scars from the sun. Use a suncream with a high sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 50 if any area of scarring is exposed to the sun. You may be advised to do this for up to 2 years.
It is usually fine to have sex after your operation. But it is important that you feel comfortable when having sex. This will probably be a few weeks after your operation, but it may take longer. Ask your surgeon or specialist breast nurse if there is anything you need to be careful about.
Having breast reconstruction will create a new breast shape. But the sensations in the breast and nipple will not be the same as before. If you were previously aroused by having your breasts touched, you may find that your arousal is affected.
Take things at your own pace. If you have a partner, talk to them about any concerns you have. Some women feel nervous about how their partner will react to their body. It may take some time for you to feel comfortable talking about your surgery and showing them your reconstructed breast.
Sometimes a partner may worry about touching the reconstructed breast, because they think they may hurt you. It can help for you and your partner to talk about how you feel and any fears you have. Your breast care nurse can also advise you.
When you can return to work depends on:
- whether you are having further cancer treatment
- the type of operation you had
- the type of work you do.
If your job does not involve heavy manual work and you are not having treatment you may be able to go back to work sooner.
We have more information about work and cancer.
You can usually start driving again:
- once you can use the gear stick and handbrake
- as long as you can do an emergency stop and move the steering wheel suddenly if necessary.
Some women are able to drive within a few weeks after surgery. Others find it takes longer. Insurance companies often have their own guidelines about when you can drive again after an operation. You should check this with your car insurance company.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our breast cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
European Society for Medical Oncology. Primary breast cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of oncology 26 (supplement 5): v8–v30. 2015.
Morrow M, et al. Chapter 79: malignant tumors of the breast. DeVita, Hellman and Rosenberg’s cancer: principals and practice of oncology (10th edition). Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. 2014.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Early and locally advanced breast cancer: diagnosis and management. July 2018.
Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network. SIGN 134. Treatment of primary breast cancer: a national clinical guideline. September 2013.
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Rebecca Roylance, Consultant Medical Oncologist.
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