At Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) we are committed to helping you recover from breast cancer surgery as quickly and safely as possible. As your care team, we follow evidence-based guidelines to optimize your recovery while minimizing pain and complications.
The pathway for each surgical procedure has many steps that involve all members of your care team—including you. Some of our pathways build on an approach called Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS). These are evidence-based guidelines designed to optimize hydration, nutrition and pain control, leading to a faster, safer and more comfortable recovery from surgery.
We also go beyond ERAS to make sure that you are benefitting from the best-known practices throughout your entire surgical journey – including after you leave the hospital. Our pathways decrease complications, including surgical site infections, heart rhythm problems, blood clots and more. Patients and caregivers alike are seeing the benefits of this team-based approach that revolves around you and your recovery.
After surgery, you will go to a PACU (recovery room) where you will receive comprehensive care from an experienced clinical staff that will closely monitor you as you recover from anesthesia. The length of time spent in the PACU depends on the type of surgery performed and your specific condition. The clinical staff may do the following:
Our clinical staff will instruct you in performing breathing and moving exercises to aid the speed of post-anesthesia recovery, such as:
Many factors contribute toward the amount of discomfort following surgery. Typical discomforts following breast surgery may include:
Your healthcare team will work with you to minimize any discomfort you may have following surgery.
Although rare, complications can occur following breast surgery. The most common complications after breast surgery are:
A certain amount of pain is typical following surgery. With today’s new and improved pain medications, there is no reason for anyone to tolerate severe pain. If pain does not subside with pain medication, however, there may be a more serious problem.
By effectively treating pain, you will heal faster and be able to go home and resume normal activities sooner. Discuss pain control options that have worked well or not worked for you in the past with your doctor before surgery. Following surgery, your doctors and nurses will want to know how your pain medicine is working and whether or not you are still experiencing pain. If necessary, your doctor will change the medicine and/or dosage.
The amount of postoperative discomfort you experience depends on various factors, particularly the type of surgical procedure and your threshold for pain. Discuss your pain management options with your doctor, including the various types of pain medications and their side effects.
What are the different types of pain relief medications commonly used after surgery?
Some pain relief medications used after surgery may include:
Breathing and relaxation exercises can also help in controlling pain. Consult your doctor for more information.
Learn more about pain management in our health library.
Typically, your incision will be closed either by surgical glue (Dermabond) or Steri-Strips. To clean your incision, you can gently wash the area and pat dry. You should leave Steri-Strips or Dermabond on until they wear off on their own. Occasionally non-absorbable sutures are used, and in these cases your physician will explain how you should care for your incision prior to surgery.
Your nurse will review how to care for your drains after you leave the hospital.
The Brigham and Women's Hospital breast cancer surgeons offer the following patient information sheets:
Read more in our health library:
Visit theKessler Health Education Libraryin the Bretholtz Center for Patients and Families to access computers and knowledgeable staff.
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