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Breast Cancer Surgery

Personal care, nutrition, and activity


Showering or bathing

You may shower 24 to 48 hours after your surgery unless you were told not to. You may want to print and fill out My Plan before your surgery or before you’re sent home so that you can write your discharge instructions there.

When you are allowed to, having a shower or bath (with your incision out of the water) is usually okay while you still have staples, stitches, Steri-Strips, sticky dressings, or a drain.

Do not swim until your incisions are completely healed.

Follow these instructions:


  • When you shower, stand so that the water isn’t falling right on your incision.
  • When you bathe, do not put your incision(s) under the water.
  • Rinse the incision area well, and gently pat it dry.
  • Use warm, not hot water, so you don’t get a burn. (The area around the incision(s) may be numb so you may not be able to feel if the water is too hot).


  • Hold the tubing of the drain in place while you are in the shower so it’s not pulling against your skin.
  • Wearing a cloth belt around your waist is recommended. Secure the drain to the belt with a safety pin while you shower.

Using products (liquids, lotions or creams)

It is important not to use products on your incision until it is healed. These products may irritate healing tissue.

  • Do not clean your incision with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.
  • When your incisions are healed (at least 2 weeks), you may use an unscented lotion.
  • If you have an incision under your arm, don’t use deodorant until the incision is healed.


If you have an incision under your arm, don’t shave your armpit or use hair removal products on your surgery side, until your skin has completely healed.

You may have less feeling in the armpit area, so you need to be careful when shaving so you don’t cut yourself. Cuts can lead to infections.


After breast-conserving surgery: you may want to wear a supportive bra for a few days for comfort, even when you sleep. Do not wear tight-fitting or underwire bras.

All other surgery: Loose-fitting shirts or sleepwear that open in the front will be easiest to put on and take off. Department or specialty stores that sell prosthetics may also sell mastectomy camisoles. You do not have to buy one, unless you want to.


Do not drive for at least 24 hours after you come home from the hospital. Your surgeon will tell you if you need to stop driving for longer than 24 hours.

Do not drive until you:

  • are no longer taking pain medications that make you feel sleepy
  • can move your arms normally
  • can shoulder check without pain
  • can hit the brake pedal for an emergency stop without pain
  • feel stronger and comfortable

Diet and nutrition

Nutrition will improve your treatment outcomes and quality of life. Eat a healthy diet to give your body the energy to heal and to do your everyday activities.

  • Choose a variety of foods: vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods, and foods with protein.
  • Eat foods with protein to help you meet your protein needs, maintain strength, and keep your immune system healthy.
  • Eat enough so you do not lose weight. If your appetite is poor, it may help to eat smaller meals more often, and eat snacks between meals. It may also help to eat foods that are higher in energy (calories).

Higher energy foods with protein include:

  • beef, pork, poultry, fish, and eggs
  • beans, lentils, nuts, nut butters, seeds, and tofu
  • milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • protein powders and nutrition supplement drinks

Higher energy foods without protein include:

  • avocado, dried fruit, granola, cream, and wheat germ
  • margarine, butter, vegetable oil, salad dressing, mayonnaise, creamy sauces, gravy, and coconut milk
  • sugar, syrup, jam, candy, and desserts

Wash your vegetables and fruits with water before you eat them. This will help to remove any germs that are not visible. Proper handling, storage, and cooking of meat is also important. Raw meat can have bacteria that can make you very sick if you don’t cook it or store it properly. Keep raw meat and fresh fruit and vegetables separate.

If you want more information on what to eat, drink, or both, ask your healthcare team to speak with a dietitian. A dietitian can give you guidance and tips for healthy eating during your treatment. Learn more about nutrition and breast cancer (PDF).

Activity and exercise

Regular exercise before surgery and after your incisions have healed has many benefits. It can help:

  • reduce fatigue and improve energy levels
  • reduce your risk for blood clots
  • reduce nausea
  • boost your immune system
  • lower your risk for falling by keeping you stronger
  • improve your mood and help you feel better as treatment progresses

It’s important to check with your surgeon first before you start any exercise program or go back to doing sports. Light activity, such as walking and light housework, is okay.

If you have other health issues, check with your healthcare team before you start a new exercise program.

Learn more about arm and shoulder exercises.

Tobacco products

Stopping the use of tobacco can be difficult and often takes several tries. By stopping your tobacco use after a cancer diagnosis, you can improve your health and body’s response to treatment, whether it’s surgery, radiation treatment, or systemic treatment.

Studies show many important benefits of quitting the use of tobacco after a cancer diagnosis, including:

  • a better chance of successful treatment
  • fewer serious side effects
  • faster recovery from treatment
  • decreased risk of the cancer coming back, or getting another cancer diagnosis
  • lower risk of infection
  • easier breathing
  • more energy
  • better quality of life

Cancer patients who quit tobacco say they feel better physically, emotionally, and have a better quality of life. Now is the best time to be tobacco free.

For support quitting tobacco or for more information, visit Alberta Quits or call 1-866-710-QUIT (7848).​

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