According to the National Cancer Institute, most women with breast cancer will have some type of surgery as part of their treatment. There are several different types of breast surgery which may be performed to treat breast cancer, including a lumpectomy, partial mastectomy and complete radial mastectomy. The physical and emotional recovery varies initially, but may also be affected by the type of surgery, overall health of the women and stage of the cancer.
Recovery after breast cancer surgery will be different for each women and will depend on the type of surgery which was performed. Some pain and swelling at the surgical site will likely occur. Pain can be managed with medication. Some women may experience numbness in the chest or underarm, due to the nerves being cut during surgery. Wound drains will be placed to allow fluid to drain during some types of breast cancer surgery. The drains will be removed in a week or two depending on the fluid drainage.
Some women opt to have immediate reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy. In some cases breast reconstruction can be done at the same time as a mastectomy, or it can be delayed until after radiation therapy. There are different approaches to reconstructive surgery. Tissue can be taken from another area of the body and shaped into breasts. Saline or silicone implants are another option.
Lymph nodes under the arm are often removed during breast cancer surgery. This can cause a condition known as lymphedema. Lymph nodes help move the lymph fluid out of the arm. If the nodes are removed, fluid can buildup in the soft tissue of the arms or hands. A physician can provide exercises after surgery to help prevent lymphedema. Avoiding tight shirts and maintaining a healthy weight can also decrease the chancs of developing lymphedema after breast cancer surgery.
Depending on what type of breast surgery that was performed there may be significant changes to the shape of the breast. In the case of a mastectomy the breast will be removed. For some women this may cause some changes to their self-image. Taking about insecurities may help. Talking with a friend, mental health worker or becoming part of a breast cancer support groups may help women cope with self image issues after breast surgery.
As with any type of surgery, complication after breast cancer surgery can develop. Blood can accumulate at the wound. Infection is also a possibility. Signs of infection to watch for include increase redness or pus at the wound. Fever may also occur. Women should contact their healthcare provider at the first signs of infection. Some women may also develop hard scar tissue at the surgical wound. Shoulder pain may also occur.
National Cancer Institute
National Breast Cancer Foundation