Recovering After Surgery &
Possible Side-Effects

The period of recovery from breast cancer surgery is different for everyone. One reason is because not all breast cancer surgeries are the same. Some people may have had a double mastectomy, where both breasts are removed, while others may have had a single mastectomy, and in other cases some people may have had a lumpectomy (removal of the cancer with a small margin of healthy tissue surrounding it) instead. Either way, having gone through a major operation such as breast cancer surgery would have taken a toll on your body. 

It can take a few weeks to fully recover from breast cancer surgery, and possibly longer if you had breast reconstruction at the same time. The important thing is not to rush through your recovery and allow yourself the time to heal.

Physical Activity

Get lots of rest

Ensure you get enough rest. Getting enough sleep will help you recover faster. Make sure to rest your arm after any activity for the same amount of time as the activity time. [1] 

Take a walk

Try to do some walking each day. Increase the distance you walk day by day. Walking helps boost blood flow and prevents pneumonia and constipation. [2] Apart from being good for your body, it will do wonders for your spirit.

Limit your activity

Avoid any strenuous activity such as biking, jogging, weightlifting or aerobic exercise including housework, until your doctor gives you the greenlight to do so. Get help from friends and family or secure a cleaning company to help with the housework. You should be able to get back to normal activities in 3 to 6 weeks. Avoid lifting anything heavy (over 5 kg to 7kg) for 4 to 6 weeks. [3] Avoid repeated motions with your affected arm such as window cleaning, weed pulling or vacuuming for at least 6 months. And check with your doctor when you will be able to drive. 


Eat a healthy balanced diet. You might however want to increase your protein intake. Protein helps repair cells, fight infection and heal incisions. [4]


Take pain medication as needed

After surgery, you may feel some numbness, pain around the breast incision or chest wall. If you feel the need, take pain medication as needed and as instructed by your doctor. If the pain medication makes you nauseous, take it after a meal, or speak to your doctor to prescribe a different pain medication.

Resuming medication

If you were on medication before surgery such as blood thinners, speak to your doctor first before restarting your medication.

Incision Care

Daily cleaning

Your doctor would have covered your incision with a bandage. The bandage is for protecting the incision and to help it heal. Do not remove the bandage until your doctor says it’s okay to do so. Take a sponge bath until your doctor has removed the drains and sutures. Your doctor would also give you special instructions on how to take care of the wound. 

Caring for surgical drain

Your doctor may have inserted a surgical drain in your breast area or armpit during surgery. The surgical drain is for drawing out excess fluid which may collect in the cavity where the tumour was. The surgical drain may remain inserted for 1 to 2 weeks. You may need to empty out the fluid from the detachable drain bulb a few times a day. Make sure you receive proper instructions from your doctor on caring for the surgical drain before you leave the hospital. 

Watch out for infection

If your wound looks red or swollen, feels warm, is painful and leaks fluid (discharge), speak to your doctor. You may also feel unwell and have a temperature. These may be signs of an infection. 

Wear garments that provide good support
Immediately after breast cancer surgery, you may want to consider wearing post-surgical bras which provide good support and help in healing and provide comfort. The Can-Care Post-Op Kit which consists of a Post-Op Bra and Post-Op Molded Form are both specially designed for women recovering from breast cancer surgery. Made from cotton, the soft Post-Op Bra which hooks in the front for ease of donning and doffing, provides support and comfort while you’re experiencing site swelling, stiffness, pain and limited arm movement. The Can-Care Post-Op Molded Breast Form is a non-silicone, feather light molded form designed as a temporary shape replacement.

Arm Exercises

Keep to your exercise routine

If you had your lymph nodes removed from under your arm, your doctor may have advised you to do some arm exercises. Cancer or cancer treatment can affect the fluid drainage channels of the lymphatic system. Fluid then doesn't drain in the normal way, so the area swells.

About 1 in 5 people (20%) [6] will have lymphedema of the arm after breast cancer treatment that includes:

• surgery to remove lymph nodes

• radiotherapy to the lymph nodes

If lymphedema is not treated, it may get worse. It can be painful and make it difficult to move your arm.

Research has found that exercise and movement can help to lower the risk of developing lymphoedema. Most of this evidence comes from research into lymphoedema and breast cancer.

Hence, keep with your arm exercise routine to keep it limber and relieve pain and stiffness. The Can-Care Post-Op Kit includes a squeeze ball to stimulate movement in your arm which you can start using the day after your surgery. You will also need a compression arm sleeves when you’re doing any form of exercise.

Hence, keep with your arm exercise routine to keep it limber and relieve pain and stiffness. The Can-Care Post-Op Kit includes a squeeze ball to stimulate movement in your arm which you can start using the day after your surgery. You will also need a compression arm sleeves when you’re doing any form of exercise.

Elevate arms

Do not use ice to relieve pain or any swelling in the arm. Prop up your arm on a pillow to keep your arm above the level of your heart when you sit or lie down instead. This will help reduce the swelling. [5]

exercises you can do after breast surgery


After having undergone major surgery, it is not uncommon to experience some emotional changes. It’s difficult to predict how you will feel immediately following breast cancer surgery or perhaps even months after. Some common emotions include:  

  • Sadness and a sense of loss.
  • Body image issues. 
  • Anxiety over intimacy. 
  • Fear of cancer and treatment. 

You’re entitled to how you feel and it’s perfectly normal to go through these emotions. Take your time to sort out all your emotions. Don’t be afraid to share what you’re going through with friends and family or seek professional counselling. Can-Care has a team of specially trained counsellors who can help you manage your emotions with care.

Possible side effects


Immediately following breast cancer surgery, you may feel tired, weak and sore where the incision was made. Make sure you get plenty of rest. You may also experience fatigue from time to time in the early months following your surgery. Speak to your doctor if you have problems managing your fatigue. 

Phantom feelings

In the months after breast cancer surgery, as you heal and nerves regrow, you may experience a strange ‘crawly’ sensation, itchiness and be sensitive to touch or pressure. The discomfort may go away by itself or it may persist but you will adapt to it. 

Shoulder stiffness 

Your shoulder might become stiff and painful after breast cancer surgery or removal of the lymph nodes. Your doctor would have provided advice on arm exercises to keep your arms flexible and in full movement. 

Swelling in the arm or hand (Lymphedema) 

You may experience some swelling in the arm after your surgery and it will go away after a while if you keep a regular routine of arm exercises. However, if you had your lymph nodes removed, you may be at risk of long term swelling (lymphedema). Can-Care has specially engineered compression arm sleeves  which exert a consistent pressure on the blood vessels and lymph network, making it easier for your body to remove the extra lymph fluid which causes the swelling.

Fluids collecting at the operation site (Seroma)

After the surgical drain is removed, fluid may sometimes collect near the wound which can cause swelling, pain and increase the risk of infection. The fluid normally goes away on its own after a few weeks. For some people, it can take up to a few months after surgery. Speak to your doctor if you think a seroma is developing. For a comfortable recovery, consider donning the Can-Care Post-Op Bra which is specially designed to provide optimum compression and helps reduce swelling. 

The most important thing to do during your recovery is to take care of yourself – physically, mentally and emotionally. Pace yourself and listen to your body. In time, your body will recover and so will your mind. 


1- 3) Mastectomy: What to Expect At Home( 

4) Exercise and Nutrition After Breast Cancer Surgery(  

5) Mastectomy: What to Expect At Home(


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