After your operation

Drips and drains

When you wake up from your operation, you may have a drip (infusion) into a vein in the back of your hand or your arm. This will be removed when you are able to drink enough.

If you have reconstruction using free flaps, you will also have a catheter to drain urine (pee) from your bladder. This will be taken out once you can get up and move around.

There may be drainage tubes coming out of the wounds. These will be attached to a small container. This collects any excess blood or body fluid. A nurse will remove the tubes and container a few days after the operation. Or these may be removed after you go home.


Straight after surgery, your wounds may be covered with dressings or sticky plastic strips. You will wear these until the wounds have healed.

Once you are moving around, your surgeon or nurse will tell you whether you should keep the area dry. They will let you know when you can gently shower the wounds with clean water.

They will also tell you if and when your stitches need to be removed. The stitches may be soluble. This means they will dissolve and not need to be removed by a doctor or nurse.

Reconstruction using your own tissue

If you have breast reconstruction using your own tissue, the reconstructed breast will need to be kept warm for the first few hours after the operation. Warmth improves blood flow to the tissue. You may have a special blanket called a Bair Hugger, which lets warm air flow over you. Or you may have thick gauze pads over the breasts.

The tissue flaps will be checked frequently for the first 24 to 48 hours. This is to make sure they have a good blood supply.

Swelling and bruising

Your reconstructed breast will be swollen to begin with. Swelling will reduce over a few weeks but may take longer to fully settle.

Some people may have some general post-surgery swelling in their body, hands and feet. This will start to go down after couple of days.

Bruising to the breasts and donor site is very common after the operation. It usually goes away within 3 weeks.

Pain or discomfort

After any type of operation, you will have some pain or discomfort. You will be given painkillers to keep you comfortable. After the operation, you may have these as an injection or through a pump you control yourself. These will be replaced by tablets or syrup as you start to eat and drink. Make sure you ask for painkillers if you need them. This will help you recover more quickly.

Before you go home, the nurses will give you medicines to take at home while the area continues to heal. They will explain how to take them.

Changes in sensation

You will usually have some numbness or pins and needles across your chest or reconstructed breast. If you have a tissue flap, you may also have numbness under your upper arms and around the donor site. Some people may notice a change in how materials such as lace feel against their skin.

These sensations improve over months or sometimes years. But it is common to have some numbness that will not go away. Most people adjust to this over time.


Constipation can be common after surgery. It means you are not able to pass stools (poo) as often as you normally do. It can become difficult or painful. Here are some tips that may help:

  • Drink at least 2 litres (3½ pints) of fluids each day.
  • Eat high-fibre foods, such as fruit, vegetables and wholemeal bread.
  • Do regular gentle exercise, like going for short walks.

Some painkillers can cause constipation. You may need to take medicine called laxatives to help. Your doctor can prescribe these for you. Or you can get them from your local pharmacy.

Wearing a bra

You may be advised to wear a bra to support your reconstructed breast. To begin with, you will need to wear a soft, supportive bra without underwires. This will be more comfortable. A front-fastening bra can be easier to take on and off. Ask your breast care nurse for advice.

If you have reconstruction with an implant, you may be given a Velcro® band to wear for several weeks. This is called a stabiliser band. It sits on top of the implant and helps make sure it stays in the correct position. You should wear this day and night


Your physiotherapist or breast care nurse will show you exercises to do. At first, you may have some discomfort when you move your arm. But it is important to continue to use your arm and do your exercises. You will also be given specific exercises to do if you had surgery to another part of your body, such as your tummy.

Checking breast tissue samples

After risk-reducing breast surgery, samples of your breast tissue are sent to a laboratory and examined under a microscope. This is to make sure there are no changes in the cells that might be the early stages of cancer.

If any cancer changes are found, your doctor and nurse will talk to you about any further treatment you might need.

Going home

Your surgical team will let you know how long you can expect to be in hospital for after your operation. This will depend on:

If you have a breast implant, you may be in hospital for up to 2 nights. After an operation using a tissue flap, you may be in hospital for up to 7 nights.

Possible complications after surgery

Most of the possible complications after surgery are mild and can be treated. But there can sometimes be more serious or long-term problems. Smoking, being overweight or having diabetes can increase this risk.

Bruising and bleeding

Sometimes blood may collect in a reconstructed breast or donor site. This is called a haematoma. It is most likely to happen in the first 24 hours after surgery. It can cause swelling and pain. If you have a wound drain, this will usually collect any excess blood. If the haematoma gets worse, you may need an operation to stop the bleeding and remove it.

Blood clots

Surgery and bed rest increase the risk of developing a blood clot in the legs. This is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Straight after surgery, you may notice you have something around your lower legs which pumps air up and down. This helps keep your blood flowing and prevents blood clots while you are on the bed.

You will usually be given compression stockings to wear to try to prevent DVT. You will be encouraged to move around as soon as possible after the operation. You may also be given blood-thinning injections for a few days after the operation.

Fluid under the wound (seroma)

Sometimes after wound drains are taken out, fluid builds up under the wound. This is called a seroma.

Seromas are usually absorbed back into the body. If this happens, it may settle on its own. But you may need to have the fluid removed. A surgeon or nurse can do this with a small needle and syringe. The fluid can build up again, so it may need to be removed more than once.

Delays in wound healing

Wounds usually heal within 6 weeks. But sometimes wound healing can take longer. This may be because of infection. Or there may not be a good enough blood supply to the wound.

Smoking, radiotherapy or being very overweight can delay wound healing. Stopping smoking and eating a healthy, balanced diet with enough protein and vitamin C help tissues heal.


When you go home after your operation, you will be told how to check your wounds regularly. Tell your breast care nurse or surgeon straight away if you have any signs of infection, such as:

  • heat, redness, pain, swelling or a change in colour over the breast, around the scar, or both
  • fluid coming from the wound
  • a temperature above 38°C (100.4°F)
  • feeling shivery and shaky
  • feeling generally unwell.

Your nurse or surgeon will look at the wound and may take a swab to send for testing. If you have implants, you may need to go to the hospital for observation. Your doctor may give you antibiotics into the vein to treat an infection.

If you are having chemotherapy

Chemotherapy reduces the number of white blood cells in your blood. This makes you more likely to get an infection. If you have immediate reconstruction, your doctors will wait until your breast has healed before starting chemotherapy. This is to reduce the risk of infection.

Contact the chemotherapy team straight away if you feel unwell or have any signs of infection in your breast or elsewhere after starting chemotherapy. Your chemotherapy nurse will tell you about the signs of infection to look for.

If you are having radiotherapy

If you are having immediate reconstruction and need to have radiotherapy to the chest, there is a higher risk of certain complications. This can depend on the type of reconstruction.

Wound-healing problems

If there are problems with wound healing, this might delay radiotherapy. Having radiotherapy to the chest can also affect wound healing.

Your doctor can tell you more about possible complications of breast surgery. They can answer any questions you may have. They may also be able to show you some photos of what some of the possible complications may look like.

Problems with blood supply to the flap

If there is not a good enough blood supply, it may mean part of the tissue flap will be unsuccessful. This is called partial flap loss. If this happens, you may need another operation to remove the affected tissue.

There is a small risk that radiotherapy could affect blood supply to the flap. Having radiotherapy to the chest after a breast reconstruction may increase the risk of this happening. Your surgeon can explain more about this risk.

Fat necrosis

If you have radiotherapy to the chest after reconstruction using your own tissue, there is an increased risk of developing a fat necrosis. Fat necrosis is an area of dead fat cells that can cause a firm lump in the reconstructed breast. It can happen when fatty tissue does not have a good enough blood supply.

Capsular contracture

When you have an implant reconstruction, your body forms fibrous (hard) tissue around the implant. This is called a capsule. For some people, the capsule contracts and the tissue tightens around the implant. This is called capsular contracture. Having some capsular contracture is quite common. But, occasionally, more severe capsular contracture can happen. You have a greater risk of this if you have an implant reconstruction and also have radiotherapy to the chest.

Possible long-term effects of breast reconstruction surgery

There are possible long-term side effects of breast reconstruction surgery. These can last for a longer period of time. Some side effects may not go away completely.

Raised, thickened scars

Occasionally, tissue along the scars may thicken and turn darker than your normal skin colour. This makes scars wider and look raised above the skin.

If you have any concerns about your scars, talk to your nurse or surgeon. They can check the scars are healing. If there is a problem, they can give you treatment to help.

Some people can develop keloid scars. These may be:

  • thicker
  • more raised
  • larger than the original scar.

These are more common if you have brown or black skin. Sometimes keloid scars run in families.

Chronic pain

Pain usually gets better in the weeks after surgery. For some people, pain may continue for months or even years after the operation. Pain may be:

  • along the scar
  • along the chest wall
  • around the shoulder or upper arm
  • in the area the flap was taken from.

Pain may be due to nerve damage and can improve over time.

Pain that continues for a long time is called chronic pain. There are several different causes of chronic pain.

If you have pain that does not improve, tell your breast surgeon. They can find out the cause or recommend ways to help.

Depending on the cause of the pain, there are different ways to manage it. You may be given painkillers. If you have nerve pain, there are painkillers that help with this. Some people are referred to a physiotherapist to find out if there are any exercises that may help. Or you may be referred to a pain clinic. These are clinics that specialise in managing pain. Some people find certain complementary therapies help with pain.

In some situations, lipomodelling has been found to help with chronic pain, when it is done more than once. Lipomodelling may also help with the tight feeling some people have after having a reconstruction using tissue from the back.

It is also important to wear a bra that fits well. Your breast care nurse can tell you more about making sure you are wearing the right bra.

Shoulder and abdominal weakness

If you have reconstructive surgery using your own tissue, you may have some shoulder or tummy area (abdominal) weakness. This will depend on the type of surgery you have. You can be referred to a physiotherapist to help find ways to manage this.

About our information

  • Reviewers

    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, Professor Mike Dixon, Professor of Surgery and Consultant Breast Surgeon.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

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We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

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We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

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Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 November 2022
Next review: 01 November 2025
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

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