What to Expect After the Operation
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Helping you make a speedy recovery after breast-conserving surgery
What to expect after the operation
There will be some variation both in the extent of each individual patient’s surgery and their body’s response to it; patient recovery programmes may therefore vary.
Your scar will usually be discussed with you before your operation. It is normally placed within the bra line so is not visible when you are wearing clothes. Scars may be raised, red or swollen at first, but should gradually settle and will fade over time.
After your operation, the scar will be covered with a waterproof dressing. It is wise to keep the dressing dry for the first 48 hours, then you may shower or bathe as normal, but try not to soak the dressing. The scar will need to remain covered for 7–10 days.
Wounds can weep a little and the dressing may need to be changed. If this is the case, or if you have any other wound problems, the ward staff, your local dressing clinic, or your breast care nurse will be able to advise you on how to manage this.
Once your dressing is removed, avoid rubbing soap or shower gel directly onto your wound. Pat the scar dry with a soft towel. Do not pick any scabs that form as they are protecting the new tissue growing underneath.
Most lumpectomy scars have dissolvable stitches that do not need to be removed. However, if you have stitches that do need to be removed, this is usually done around 7–10 days after your operation by a nurse in your own home, or by a nurse at your local clinic or treatment centre. Your hospital should already have given you advice about how your wounds are closed and how to care for them.
Following a lumpectomy, tingling and mild pain around the scar are common complaints during the first few days. Your surgeon may have put some local anaesthetic on your wound during surgery so you may not have any pain initially; you will have been given some simple pain-relieving tablets while you are on the ward and also to take home. Remember to take them as prescribed, for as long as required.
At 4–6 weeks, the breast may still feel firm. This is usually where the fat in your breast has become hard; it is nothing to worry about and should settle and soften over time.
Swelling or heaviness of the breast
In the first few weeks after surgery, sometimes clear or pink-stained fluid can collect under the skin as a swelling (seroma). You may also develop bruising; this will slowly fade, although sometimes a hard, tense bruise can form (haematoma). If either a seroma or a haematoma does develop, it can be uncomfortable and give you a heavy feeling in your breast. Both of these can be dealt with in a straightforward way. Contact your breast care nurse and she will be able to advise you; otherwise speak with your GP for further advice.
After a lumpectomy, you may experience a hollowing under the skin where the tissue has been removed. This is often called a defect; it is not harmful but it may bother you. If you are concerned about it, speak with your breast care nurse or surgeon who will be able to advise you. Wearing clothes after a lumpectomy When you go home you can wear a supportive, sports-style bra. You can also wear it at night if you find this more comfortable.
Feeling tired or emotional
If you feel tired or emotional in the days and weeks after your operation, try not to worry – this is a quite normal reaction that many women experience. A diagnosis of breast cancer can provoke a wide range of feelings and emotions; these can be frightening and difficult to deal with. Your breast care nurse specialist, surgeon and GP will be able to offer you sources of help and support. As your physical activity levels improve, you will steadily start to feel less tired and as time goes on you will feel less anxious.
Pain reliefSome painkillers, such as those containing codeine, may cause constipation, so it’s important to get plenty of fibre in your diet while you are recovering. Fresh fruit and vegetables will help to keep your bowels moving regularly. Lactulose may also be useful.