Recovery from surgery

If you’ve had a mastectomy you will probably have spent one to three days in hospital.  If you have had breast reconstruction or complications, your hospital stay is likely to be longer.

Immediately after surgery:

Waking up from a general anaesthetic, you are likely to feel groggy and possibly confused, but this soon wears off. 

You will usually have some numbness in the chest, armpit or upper arm area.  This may be the result of reactive swelling in the surrounding tissue putting pressure on the nerves or nerve damage during surgery.  You may also feel some odd sensations in these areas – burning, tingling, itching etc.  Tell your doctor about any side effects of surgery.

The chest and arm area may be swollen. This is usually relatively minor but larger collections of fluid, called seromas, are not uncommon, especially in the armpit or under the mastectomy scar.

You may also have drain tubes in your chest to help clear the wound site of excess blood and lymph fluid.  Some women are sent home with these drains still in place and will have to manage changing collection bottles and keeping tubes clean.  Your breast care nurse will give you information on this.

Recovering at home

It’s important to take it easy in the days and weeks after surgery.  Try to avoid any heavy lifting, and some household chores like vacuuming and hanging out the washing. 

Try to move around as much as you feel able. Gentle exercise, such as walking, is good for recovery.  You will probably be given some arm exercises by your surgeon or breast care nurse to help you regain mobility in your affected arm.  Make sure you do these to keep your arm moving freely.

You should be able to resume your normal activities within a few weeks of a mastectomy.

You may like to check out these exercise programmes, specifically designed and run for women who have experienced breast cancer:

You may also like to have a look at our pages on the side-effects of surgery and our pages on support to deal with the physical changes breast cancer treatment brings.