Lumpectomy: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

Before and after a lumpectomy

For 1 or 2 days after the surgery you will probably feel tired and have some pain. The skin around the cut (incision) may feel firm, swollen, and tender, and be bruised. Tenderness should go away in about 2 or 3 days, and the bruising within 2 weeks. Firmness and swelling may last for 3 to 6 months.

You may feel a soft lump in your breast that gradually turns hard. This is the incision healing. It is not cancer.

You should wear a well-fitted and supportive bra, even during the night, for 1 week. You will probably be able to go back to work or your normal routine in 1 to 3 weeks after the surgery. This may depend on whether you have more treatment.

Your doctor may have removed some lymph nodes in your armpit to see if the cancer has spread. If so, you may feel either numbness or tingling ("pins and needles") in your armpit or on the inside of your upper arm. This should improve over the next several weeks. Some women have numbness for a longer time.

When you find out that you have cancer, you may feel many emotions and may need some help coping. Seek out family, friends, and counsellors for support. You also can do things at home to make yourself feel better while you go through treatment. Call the Canadian Cancer Society (1-888-939-3333) or visit its website at www.cancer.ca for more information.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Activity

  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover. You may want to sleep on the side that has not been operated on. Use a pillow to support the affected breast while lying on your side.
  • Avoid strenuous activities, such as biking, jogging, weightlifting, or aerobic exercise, for 1 month or until your doctor says it is okay. This may include housework, such as washing windows, especially if you have to use the arm next to the affected breast.
  • Most women can return to their normal activities within 2 weeks.
  • Try to walk each day. Start out by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
  • For 1 to 2 weeks, avoid lifting anything over 5 to 7 kilograms or that would make you strain. This may include heavy grocery bags and milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, cat litter or dog food bags, a vacuum cleaner, or a child.
  • You may drive when you are no longer taking pain medicine and can use your arm without pain. Talk to your doctor about when to start driving, especially if you are having radiation treatments.
  • You will probably be able to go back to work or your normal routine in 1 to 3 weeks. It may be longer, depending on the type of work you do and whether you are having radiation or chemotherapy.
  • You may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery, if your doctor okays it. Pat the incision dry. Do not take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.

Diet

  • You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fibre supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking those medicines again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • Your doctor may have given you a medicine to numb the area inside and around your cut (incision). The numbness will last from 6 to 12 hours. If you went home right after the surgery, you may want to take pain medicine before this wears off.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.

Incision care

  • If you have strips of tape on the cut the doctor made (incision), leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • When you can shower, wash the area daily with warm, soapy water and pat it dry.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have pain that does not get better when you take your pain medicine.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • A fever.
  • You have loose stitches or an open incision.
  • You have sudden swelling of your arm, hands, or fingers.
  • Bright red blood has soaked through the bandage over your incision.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You see fluid leaking from either nipple.
  • Your swelling gets worse.
  • Your swelling is not going down.
  • You do not have a bowel movement after taking a laxative.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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