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Mastectomy: After Your Surgery

These discharge instructions will give you general information on caring for yourself after you leave the hospital. Please read these instructions and refer to this sheet in the next few weeks. Your doctor may also give you specific information. If you have any complications or questions after discharge, please call your doctor.


Your doctor will tell you when you may go back to activities that take a lot of strength, like driving and sports. After any drains are removed, you may do light housework. You should still avoid heavy lifting, carrying, or pushing (nothing heavier than five pounds) until further notice. Take frequent rest periods. You may tire more easily than usual. After doing any activity, rest and elevate the arm affected by your surgery for a period of time equal to your activity time.

Continue doing the exercises given to you by the physical or occupational therapist after full range of motion has returned. The amount of time this takes will vary from person to person. Generally, after normal range of motion has returned, you may have some stiffness and soreness for two to three months. Stiffness and soreness are normal and will slowly go away.

When your doctor allows, begin sports or strenuous activities slowly. Don’t overdo it. This will give you a chance to rebuild your strength. Continue to be careful about heavy lifting or carrying (no more than 10 pounds) with your affected arm. Your doctor will tell you when you can return to work.


You can go back to your normal diet as soon as you leave the hospital. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids (six to eight glasses a day). Try to eat a well-balanced diet. Daily portions of food from the meat, dairy, bread, and fruit and vegetable groups are necessary for your good health.


You may wash your hair. Follow your doctor’s advice on bathing. Generally, if your incision is not draining or separated, you may shower or tub bathe.

Pain control

You may have some mild discomfort. Take pain relievers as prescribed. If none were prescribed, you may take “over-the-counter” pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin). Call your doctor if your pain gets worse.

Incision Care

Check your incision daily for increased redness, drainage, swelling, or separation of skin. Call your doctor if you see any of these symptoms.

Drain Care

If you have a drain in place, please refer to the “Surgical Drain Care” instruction sheet.

Arm and Hand Care

If the lymph nodes under your arm were removed, there may be a greater chance of swelling in the arm. If possible, do not use that arm to have your blood pressure taken. If you need blood drawn or injections, use the other arm. Here are some other guidelines:

  • Use hand lotion to soften cuticles instead of cutting them.
  • Be careful when shaving your underarms. Use an electric shaver if possible. You can use a deodorant after the incision has completely healed. Until then, clean under your arms with hydrogen peroxide.
  • Be careful when cooking, sewing, and gardening to avoid burns or needle or thorn pricks. Wear oven mitts and garden gloves for protection.
  • Avoid heavy lifting with your operative arm – particularly with your arm in a dependent (hanging down) position.
  • Be careful of carrying heavy handbags, briefcases, packages, grocery bags, or any other heavy load. These should be carried in both arms at chest level and held close to your body. It is also suggested that you limit lifting with the operative arm to 10 pounds in the future.
  • Do not place an over-the-shoulder strap bag or purse on the operative side.
  • Follow the exercises and instructions given to you by your physical or occupational therapist and your physician.


  • Please remember to call your doctor’s office for a follow-up appointment.

When to Call Your Doctor

If you feel feverish or have shaking chills, take your temperature. If your temperature is 100.4 F (38 C) or above, call your doctor. The fever could mean an infection. You should also call your doctor if you have redness, draining, swelling, or separation of skin at your incision site.

Prosthesis Information

You will wear a temporary prosthesis (pros-THEE-sis) until your doctor gives you permission to buy a permanent one. He or she will decide when you have healed enough to get a permanent prosthesis. It’s also very important to wait until you are physically and emotionally ready to shop for one. You should try several different prostheses until you are satisfied with appearance and fit. You can get a list of stores that sell prostheses from your local American Cancer Society chapter.

A permanent prosthesis is needed to restore your balance; therefore, it is deemed medically necessary. It is also income tax deductible; be sure all purchase receipts and documents are marked “surgical.” It is not necessary to purchase a special bra. You can sew a pocket for the prosthesis into your regular bra.

Note: Remember to take all of your medical insurance information with you when shopping for your prosthesis.

Selecting a Prosthesis Fitter

You may want to ask the following questions when selecting a fitter:

  • What styles and brands of forms are carried in stock?
  • How long have the forms been on the market and have there been any problems with them?
  • Why would one form be better than another for me?
  • How long should a particular form last?
  • May I wear the form for a trial period without obligation?
  • Do the forms require a prosthetic bra? If so, what is the price range? Must I always wear that style?
  • If alterations to the bra are necessary, can they be done at this location or must it be sent out?
  • Will I be charged for alterations?
  • Will I receive suggestions on how to alter my own wardrobe, if necessary?
  • Will you special-order forms or bras, if necessary?
  • Are fitters always available to meet my needs?
  • What kinds of garments should be worn for the fitting?
  • Are loungewear, swimwear, and accessories available?
  • If I have insurance coverage or Medicare, will you suggest ways for processing the paper work?
  • Do you keep complete records so that mail reordering is possible?
  • If I have a problem with the form, how are warranty claims handled?

Revised August 2012

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