What To Expect After Breast Cancer Surgery

What To Expect After Breast Cancer Surgery

What To Expect After Breast Cancer Surgery

In the midst of processing everything after finding out you have breast cancer, thinking about what to expect after surgery can easily get lost. While everyone’s recovery is a little different, and it’s always best to check with your surgeon about their specific recommendations, here’s an overview of common breast cancer procedures to give you a sense of what they might be like. What to expect after breast surgery?


This is usually done as an outpatient surgery, often under lighter anesthesia. Typically recovery is about a week, with return to sfull activity within two weeks. If a lymph node biopsy is done at the same time, I often recommend not lifting the arm on that side completely overhead for 2 weeks, as well as working with a physical therapist after surgery to help with stretching and strengthening exercises. No special bras are needed after this surgery, though soft bras that don’t rub are helpful to use during radiation if you need radiation.

Breast lift/reduction for lumpectomy reconstruction

When combined with lumpectomy, breast reductions or lifts are still typically done as outpatient surgeries, though sometimes an overnight stay is recommended. Most surgeons do not use drains, but some may use them and recommend they stay in for a few days or longer. Recovery is usually around two weeks, with light exercise encouraged by the end of the first week and a return to full activity usually by four weeks. Physical therapy is helpful for recovery and to help with swelling. A soft bra that zips or clasps in the front that provides some compression should be worn full-time for 2 weeks, and then during the day for another 2 weeks. I recommend avoiding underwire bras for 3 months to decrease the chance of irritation at incision sites.

Mastectomy (with or without reconstruction)

The expectations for after this surgery really depend on whether or not reconstruction is done and the type of reconstruction. Surgery typically entails at least an overnight stay, though it may be more like 3 or 4 days if flap reconstruction is done. Drains are used and usually stay in place for 10 to 14 days depending on the type of reconstruction. Once drains are out, I recommend physical therapy to help with chest opening exercises and strengthening.  Return to activity varies, but is usually from two to six weeks depending on reconstruction. Similar to breast reductions, a soft bra that zips or clasps in the front can be helpful for the first few months to provide support and a little compression. Underwire bras should be avoided for 3 months.