Taking Care of Yourself After Mastectomy. What You Need To Know

A mastectomy is surgery to remove part or the entire breast. This is usually done when breast cancer diagnosis indicates the malignancy is not contained in a very small area or when tests show a high risk of developing breast cancer. The incision is closed with stitches. In some cases, plastic drains are placed to drain fluid. They are usually removed in 1-2 days. Recovery time is about six weeks, assuming all normal circumstances

What You Will Need After Mastectomy:

  • Well-fitting support bra
  • Bandages for the incision area

Steps to Take After Mastectomy

Home Care After Mastectomy

  • Keep breast incisions clean and dry.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 1 minute before changing the bandages.
  • You may have one or more tubes to drain blood and fluids.
  • Empty the drains and measure the fluid. Report bright blood or pus to your doctor.
  • Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower. Do not bathe or soak in water until completely healed.
  • Wear a well-fitting, supportive bra.
  • Be sure to wear the bra all day and all night. Do this for the first week after surgery.

Diet After Mastectomy:

  • Ask your doctor if you can resume your normal diet.
  • It is important to avoid alcohol and concentrated sweets.
  • East a healthy well balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • If you are diabetic, keep close monitoring on your blood sugar levels. The goal is blood sugar levels less than 150mg/dl

Physical Activity After Mastectomy:

  • Ask your doctor when you can return to work and drive.
  • Avoid heavy lifting and other strenuous activity.
  • If you had lymph nodes removed or total radical mastectomy:
    • Avoid tight clothing on the affected arm.
    • Do not carry anything heavy using the affected arm.
    • Elevate your affected arm as much as possible.
    • Report excessive swelling to your doctor.
  • Ask your doctor about physical therapy. You may have to do exercises to help you regain shoulder and arm mobility.
  • In most cases, you can resume normal activities in six weeks.

Lifestyle Changes After Mastectomy:

  • Mastectomy is a life changing surgery. Work with your doctor will plan lifestyle changes that will aid in your recovery.
  • Light weight breast prosthesis can be work a month after surgery.
  • You can be fitted for a more permanent prosthesis after your incisions have healed.
  • Talk to your doctor about reconstruction surgery options

If you had lymph nodes removed, you take the following steps even after the recovery process:

  • No blood pressure, injections or blood draws on the affected arm
  • Avoid wearing anything tight on the affected arm.
  • Wear gloves when doing dishes, yard work, or any household scrubbing.
  • Avoid carrying anything heavy with that arm.
  • Always use an electric shaver when shaving your armpits.
  • Moisturize the skin on that arm.
  • Use sunscreen to prevent sun damage.

When to Call Your Doctor After Mastectomy:

After you leave the hospital, call your doctor if any of the following occurs:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills, redness or pus
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the incision site
  • Cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or anxiety
  • Nausea or vomiting that you cannot control with the medicines you were given after surgery.
  • or Nausea/vomiting which persist for more than two days after discharge from the hospital
  • Redness, warmth, swelling, stiffness, or hardness in the arm or hand on the side of the body where the lymph nodes were removed
  • New, unexplained symptoms of any nature
  • Lumps or skin changes in remaining tissue on mastectomy side
  • Lumps, skin changes, or nipple drainage in remaining breast
  • Depression


If you would like to share your breast cancer story, email your story on Microsoft word to cancerfreewomen[at]gmail.com.

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