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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Tips for Recovering From Breast Cancer Surgery

These are general guidelines for recovering from breast cancer surgery. Always follow your doctor's specific instructions for care after your operation.

How Do I Care for My Drainage Device?

After your surgery, you may be discharged from the hospital with an external drainage device in place. The drains will remove and collect fluid from the surgery site. Your doctor will show you how to care for the device before you leave the hospital. This usually includes emptying the drains, measuring the fluid, and keeping an eye out for any problems.

The amount of fluid that drains will gradually decrease. The fluid color may also change from a cherry red to a yellow-red, and then to a straw color. Usually the drainage system is removed within a week after surgery.

When Can I Get My Incision Wet?

The incision should be kept clean and dry for 1 week after surgery. Because of this, you may need to opt for sponge baths rather than showers. Bathing in a bathtub is OK if the incision area is kept dry.

Small pieces of tape will remain over the incision. They usually fall off by themselves.

Don’t go swimming until your doctor and surgeon say it’s OK.

When and How Do I Change My Bandages?

You’ll get a special bra that holds bandages in place after surgery. Your doctor will tell you when this bra may be removed and will also show you how to change the dressings from your surgery. If possible, it's a good idea to have someone help you change the bandages.

What Should I Take for the Pain?

Your doctor will give you a prescription for pain medication after breast cancer surgery. Ask about taking over-the-counter pain relievers in addition to, or instead of, your prescription pain medicine. Don’t take aspirin or products containing aspirin for the first 3 days after the procedure, as they may raise the risk of bleeding.

How Do I Care for the Skin Near the Incision?

The area may be black and blue right after breast cancer surgery. This will go away in a few days. You may have numbness, tingling, or discomfort on the inner part of the upper arm or in the armpit. This is normal.

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