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My mastectomy surgery

After surgery care

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How will I feel after my surgery?

  • You may have a sore throat from the breathing tube that was in place during your surgery.
  • You may feel sick to your stomach and tired from the medications you were given during and after your surgery.
  • You may have some bruising and tenderness in the area of your operation
  • You may have numbness across the mastectomy incision, in your armpit and along the backside of your arm.
  • Feelings of tightness, heaviness, tingling or burning are also common. Gently rubbing and tapping the area can help get rid of these sensations.

What are some things I need to do after my surgery?

Deep breathing and coughing:

Do deep breathing exercises as soon as possible to help your lungs recover after surgery. It is best to do these exercises while sitting up in a chair. But they can also be done lying in bed.

  • Take a slow deep breath in through your nose, filling your chest and stomach like a balloon.
  • Try to hold your breath for 1 to 2 seconds.
  • Slowly blow out through your mouth, like you are blowing birthday candles.
  • Repeat 5 times.
  • After the last breath, cough to try to clear any phlegm or mucus from your lungs.
  • Do these deep breathing exercises 4 to 5 times a day in the first 48 hours after surgery.


  • You should move your arm(s) soon after your surgery.
  • Do not cradle your arm(s) against your chest.
  • For the first 4 to 6 weeks following surgery:
    • Do NOT lift anything over 10 pounds.
    • Do NOT do any heavy pushing, pulling or repetitive movements with the affected arm(s).
  • A Physiotherapist will see you before you leave the hospital and will show you exercises that you need to start 24 hours after surgery. Learn more about these exercises.

Will I have a bandage after my surgery?

  • You will have dissolvable stitches underneath your incision (cut) and several strips of thin surgical tape covering your incision. These are called steri-strips.
  • The incision will then be covered by a large gauze dressing. At the site of the drain, you will have another smaller dressing.
  • Do NOT remove your dressings for the first 48 hours after surgery or until a nurse sees you for the first time at home or at a medical clinic.
  • Do NOT remove the thin strips of surgical tape for about 10 days after your surgery.
  • Your surgeon may also place a tensor bandage wrapped around your chest during your recovery. This can be removed 48 hours after surgery.

Will I have pain after my surgery?

  • You may have some mild pain or discomfort after your surgery.
  • You will be given a prescription for pain medication before you leave the hospital.
  • Be sure to fill your prescription for pain medicine as soon as possible so that you have it available if you should need it.
  • Take your pain medicine exactly as it is directed so that you can have good pain control.
  • If you still have pain after taking your medicine, or you have concerns about your pain medicine, call the Breast Site Nursing Team at 416-480-5000, extension 81007.

What about my other medicine (pills)?

  • Restart your regular medicine after surgery unless your surgeon has told you not to.
  • If you normally take aspirin or a blood thinner (such as Coumadin®), ask your surgeon when you can start these medicines after surgery.
  • If you have any questions about your other regular medicines, please contact your family doctor.

What can I do if I am constipated?

You may be constipated after surgery. Constipation can result from the medication used to put you to sleep for your surgery, taking certain pain medications, a change in diet and/or reduced physical activity.

If you have trouble having a bowel movement, the following may help:

  • Drink lots of fluid after your surgery.
  • Use a stool softener, such as colace, which is available at a pharmacy.
  • Or, use a laxative such as senokot, which stimulates the bowels so they move. Senokot is available at a pharmacy. Take 1 to 2 senokot tablets twice a day as needed.
  • Eat prunes or drink prune juice.

If these things don’t help, please talk to your surgeon or family doctor.

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When should I get medical help if I run into problems?

If you have any of these symptoms — and it is between 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday — call the Breast Site Nursing Team at 416-480-5000, extension 81007:

  • Your incision (cut) becomes red, swollen or very painful.
  • Your temperature is 38 degrees Celsius or 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for over 24 hours.
  • Unusual drainage of fluid or a lot of bleeding from where you had your surgery. “A lot of” means a “soaked” bandage.
  • If your hand or your arm becomes red and painful, you may have an infection that needs to be treated with antibiotics.

If any of these symptoms happen before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m. Monday to Friday, please go to your closest Emergency Department.

Once you have been sent home from the Emergency Department, please call the Breast Site Nursing Team to let them know you went to the Emergency Department.


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