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How To Prepare For Breast Cancer Surgery

Four Weeks Before Surgery

Your Breast Cancer Surgery Program: Preparing for Your Operation

One of the first steps to prepare for breast augmentation surgery is to complete your pre-surgery labs or testing if ordered. Bloodwork can help ensure you are in proper health and an ideal candidate for breast augmentation surgery. Prior to surgery, bloodwork can ensure that electrolytes, hemoglobin, and other factors are at adequate levels. Additionally, you will need to stop smoking for at least four weeks leading up to your breast augmentation surgery.

As you prepare for your upcoming surgery, you will need to determine travel arrangements, as you will not be able to drive following surgery. Many patients choose to have a friend or family member drive them after surgery. It is generally recommended that you have someone stay with you for at least 24 hours following surgery. You may need to also make arrangements for child or pet care as you recover.

Questions To Ask Before Cancer Surgery

You might want to ask your health care team, doctor, or surgeon some of the questions listed here, if you don’t hear the information first, or if you need to understand it better. The answers might help you feel better about your decision and know what to expect.

  • Exactly what will you do in this operation?
  • Will all the cancer be removed, or just some of it?
  • What are the chances the surgery will work?
  • Will I need other cancer treatments before or after surgery?
  • Am I healthy enough to go through the stress of surgery and anesthesia?
  • How long will the surgery take?
  • Who will update my family?
  • Will I need blood transfusions?
  • Will I be in a lot of pain? Will I have tubes coming out of my body?
  • How long will I need to be in the hospital?
  • How will my body be affected by the surgery? Will any of the changes be permanent?
  • How long will it take for me to get back to my usual activities?
  • What are the possible risks and side effects of this operation?
  • What will happen if I dont have the operation?
  • If this surgery doesnt work, are there other cancer treatments I can get afterwards?
  • Will my insurance pay for this surgery? How much will I have to pay?
  • Are you certified by the American Board of Surgery and/or a Specialty Surgery Board?
  • Are you experienced in operating on my kind of cancer? How many operations like this have you done?
  • Do I have time to get a second opinion?

Days Before Your Surgery

Follow your healthcare providers instructions for taking aspirin

If you take aspirin or a medication that contains aspirin, you may need to change your dose or stop taking it 7 days before your surgery. Aspirin can cause bleeding.

Follow your healthcare providers instructions. Dont stop taking aspirin unless they tell you to. For more information, read the resource Common Medications Containing Aspirin, Other Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs , or Vitamin E.

Stop taking vitamin E, multivitamins, herbal remedies, and other dietary supplements

Stop taking vitamin E, multivitamins, herbal remedies, and other dietary supplements 7 days before your surgery. These things can cause bleeding. For more information, read the resource Herbal Remedies and Cancer Treatment.

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Questions To Ask About Planning Follow

  • What is the chance that the cancer will come back? Should I watch for specific signs or symptoms?

  • What long-term side effects or late effects are possible based on the cancer treatment I received?

  • After my treatment has ended, what will my follow-up care plan be?

  • How often will I need to see a doctor?

  • If I move or need to switch doctors, how do I make sure to continue my recommended follow-up care schedule?

  • What follow-up tests will I need, and how often will those tests be needed?

  • Can I get copies of my laboratory test results?

  • How do I get a treatment summary and survivorship care plan to keep in my personal records?

  • Who will lead my follow-up care?

  • What survivorship support services are available to me? To my family?

The next section in this guide is Additional Resources. It offers more resources on this website that may be helpful to you. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.

Preparing For Your Recover From Surgery

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Its important to prepare for your recovery from surgery. Arrange to have a family member, friend or partner help with transportation and daily tasks immediately after surgery. Your hospital stay, pain and mobility will all depend on the type of surgery you have and other personal factors. Below is some common information about recovery from breast cancer surgery. Ask your doctor what to expect after your surgery and the best way to prepare.

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Questions To Ask Your Breast Surgeon After Your First Surgery

  • What type of breast cancer do I have?

  • What is the size of the tumor?

  • What is the grade and stage of this disease? What are my biomarkers? What do these mean?

  • What are the chances that the breast cancer will return?

  • Can you explain my pathology report to me?

  • Can I get a copy of my pathology report? How and when can I get these results?

  • Was all of the cancer removed during the surgery?

  • Will I need to take further medication after surgery even if all of the cancer was removed? If so, why?

  • How many lymph nodes were removed?

  • Has the cancer spread to any of the lymph nodes? If so, how many? Has the cancer spread to anywhere else in my body?

  • Do I need additional surgery?

  • If I have a mastectomy without reconstruction, where can I get a prosthesis? Is this covered by my insurance?

  • Will my arm be affected by surgery? For how long? Will I need physical therapy for my arm?

  • When will I be able to work and/or return to my normal routine? Are there any activities I should avoid?

  • Who should I contact about any side effects I experience? And how soon?

  • Will my surgeon communicate with my medical oncologist or radiation oncologist?

  • Do you recommend any genetic testing of the tumor?

Take Inventory Of Your Wardrobe

A mastectomy is generally accompanied by a lymph node dissection not to mention the stitches and drains that accompany the surgery which means that your arms range of motion will be limited. Keep soft, loose clothing handy so you dont have to spend time and energy searching for it. Organize your closet and dresser drawers with clothes that you can easily slip over your arms or step into. I was diagnosed in April, so I found a lot of loose, beautiful beachwear that I could effortlessly step into and out of after surgery.

Get fitted for a post-op garment and a lymphedema sleeve before surgery so you have it if you need or want it. I went to Nordstrom for my post-op garments. I wanted to shop in a mainstream environment, and they take insurance and have specialists on hand.

I chose an Amoena camisole that zipped on so I didnt have to lift my arms. It also had an interior pocket to hold my drain. Wearing the camisole made me feel safe and secure about the status of my healing body.

I did not get fitted for a lymphedema sleeve until after my arm began to swell. That is one thing I regret. Lymphedema is a common side effect of a mastectomy, so its smart to be prepared.

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Preparing For Breast Reconstruction Surgery

As you get ready for breast reconstruction surgery, ask your surgeon what to expect. Your surgeon can help you be as prepared as possible. You want to have realistic expectations of how your body will look and feel after surgery, and understand the benefits and risks of the type of reconstruction you are having. Ask questions and follow your surgeons instructions carefully. Some questions that may help you know what to expect include:

  • What should I do to get ready for surgery?
  • If I smoke, when is the best time to stop before surgery?
  • How much discomfort or pain will I feel after surgery?
  • How long will I be in the hospital?
  • Will I need blood transfusions?
  • How long will it take me to recover?
  • What will I need to do at home to care for my incisions ?
  • Will I have a drain when I go home?
  • How much help will I need at home to take care of my drain and wound?
  • Will I be taught exercises to do after surgery? When can I start them?
  • How much activity can I do at home?
  • What do I do if my arm swells?
  • When will I be able to go back to normal activities such as driving and working?

Your surgeon or other involved doctors/staff should explain the details of your surgery, including:

  • The drugs that will be used to make you sleep and not feel pain during the surgery
  • Where the surgery will be done
  • How long the surgery will take
  • Possible complications of surgery
  • What to expect after surgery
  • The plan for follow-up
  • Costs associated with the surgery

Commit To Focusing On Love And Peace Weeks Before Surgery

Your Breast Cancer Surgery Program: Prepare for Your Operation

These are the basic things that will definitely help you reduce anxiety and heal faster. Surgeons have also noticed that patients who commit to a mind and body recovery have been known to use less pain medication and be able to discharge from the hospital sooner.

The mind-body connection is credited for helping patients relax. Twenty minutes of deep relaxation can increase a persons T-cells, which are critical for immune system function.

Make using relaxation, suggestions, and guided meditation a routine to improve the bodys response to surgery. When you meet with your surgeon and anesthesiologist, ask them to be mindful of their conversation around you when you are under anesthesia.

Ask them to make the following statements when you are on the surgical table, during the surgery and when it is complete. The surgery went very well. You will heal quickly. When you wake up you will be hungry for something light.

Statements like these have been shown to improve the healing process.

Take the necessary inner steps to urge your body to heal faster! If you need additional help, reach out to a support group or enroll with a coach.

Laurie Boucino, one of our 7 Essentials Certified Coaches is also certified in these Heal Faster techniques. She can support you pre and post surgery if you feel you need some guidance.

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Tips For Taking Care Of Yourself After Breast Cancer Surgery

If you’re having a lumpectomy, chances are good that your recovery will be pretty uneventful, says Monica Morrow, MD, chief of the Breast Service in the Department of Surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. “Outside of strenuous physical activity, most women are ready to return to regular physical activity in a period of five days after surgery,” she says.

Mastectomies are more complicated, usually requiring an overnight hospital stay expect it to take three to four weeks before your energy level is back to normal. “But when you go home from the hospital you can do most things it’s not like you’re in bed for a month,” says Dr. Morrow.

More about surgery

Here’s what else doctors have to say about recovering from breast cancer surgery.

1. Keep moving. Becoming a couch potato isn’t just bad for your state of mind, it also ups your risk for deep-vein thrombosis, which can turn into a life-threatening embolism in your lung. Keep the arm on the side of the mastectomy gently moving, too.

4. Watch out for lymphedema. This is one of the more likely side effects of a mastectomy, though it affects just 25% of patients who’ve had the surgery. The arm on the side where you had lymph nodes removed swells up and retains fluid. See your doctor for treatment.

Weeks And Months After Lumpectomy

As nerves regrow, you may feel a weird crawly sensation, you may itch, and you may be very sensitive to touch. Your discomfort may go away by itself, or it may persist but you adapt to it. Acetaminophen or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen usually can address the pain related to this type of nerve injury. Opioids also can be used to treat this type of pain.

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Preparing For Breast Cancer Surgery

No matter what type of breast cancer surgery you have, youâll need to take steps to get ready.

One of the first things youâll need to do is to give your medical history. Your doctor will ask you about any medications youâre taking, including vitamins and supplements. Theyâll also want to know if youâve had any reactions to medications or surgical procedures in the past. If you have any conditions that could affect how your body responds to surgery, such as heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure, you should let your doctor know at this time.

Your doctor may suggest that you donate a pint or two of blood in case you need it during surgery. If you do this, youâll need to allow extra time in your pre-op schedule to donate and recover.

As your surgery date gets closer, your doctor may order tests for you. These can include a chest X-ray, EKG, and blood and urine tests. These tests let your doctor know if your body is ready for the operation. They may also request a CT scan to check the size and location of your tumor.

The Morning Of Your Surgery

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Instructions for drinking before your surgery

You can drink a total of 12 ounces of water between midnight and 2 hours before your scheduled arrival time. Do not drink anything else.Do not drink anything starting 2 hours before your scheduled arrival time. This includes water.

Take your medications as instructed

If your healthcare provider told you to take certain medications the morning of your surgery, take only those medications with a sip of water. Depending on what medications you take, this may be all, some, or none of your usual morning medications.

Shower with a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser

Shower with a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser before you leave for the hospital. Use it the same way you did the night before.

Dont put on any lotion, cream, deodorant, makeup, powder, perfume, or cologne after your shower.

Things to remember

  • If you wear contact lenses, wear your glasses instead. Wearing contact lenses during surgery can damage your eyes.
  • Dont wear any metal objects. Remove all jewelry, including body piercings. The tools used during your surgery can cause burns if they touch metal.
  • Leave valuable items at home.
  • If youre menstruating , use a sanitary pad, not a tampon. Youll get disposable underwear, as well as a pad if needed.

What to bring

Once youve arrived for your surgery

When its time to change for surgery, youll get a hospital gown, robe, and nonskid socks to wear.

Meet with a nurse
Meet with an anesthesiologist

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Surgery For Breast Cancer Treatment

Surgery is the first treatment for most people with breast cancer.

The two main types of breast surgery are:

  • breast-conserving surgery: the cancer is removed along with a margin of normal breast tissue
  • mastectomy: removal of all the breast tissue including the nipple area

Sometimes chemotherapy, hormone therapy or targeted therapy is offered before surgery.

You can find out more about going into hospital for surgery in our booklet Your operation and recovery.

Day Before Your Surgery

Note the time of your surgery

A staff member from the Admitting Office will call you after 2:00 pm the day before your surgery. If your surgery is scheduled for a Monday, theyll call you on the Friday before. If you dont get a call by 7:00 pm, call .

The staff member will tell you what time to arrive at the hospital for your surgery. Theyll also remind you where to go.

Shower with a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser

The night before your surgery, shower using a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser.

  • Use your normal shampoo to wash your hair. Rinse your head well.
  • Use your normal soap to wash your face and genital area. Rinse your body well with warm water.
  • Open the 4% CHG solution bottle. Pour some into your hand or a clean washcloth.
  • Move away from the shower stream. Rub the 4% CHG solution gently over your body from your neck to your feet. Dont put it on your face or genital area.
  • Move back into the shower stream to rinse off the 4% CHG solution. Use warm water.
  • Dry yourself off with a clean towel after your shower.
  • Dont put on any lotion, cream, deodorant, makeup, powder, perfume, or cologne after your shower.
  • Instructions for eating before your surgery

    Do not eat anything after midnight the night before your surgery. This includes hard candy and gum.

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    Learning Breathing And Leg Exercises

    Breathing exercises help to stop you from getting a chest infection. If you smoke, it helps if you can stop at least a few weeks before your operation.

    Leg exercises help to stop blood clots forming in your legs. You might also have medicines to stop the blood from clotting. You have them as small injections under the skin.

    You start the injections before your operation. You might also wear compression stockings and pumps on your calves or feet to help the circulation.

    Your nurse and physiotherapist will get you up out of bed quite quickly after your surgery. This is to help prevent chest infections and blood clots forming.

    This 3-minute video shows you how to do the breathing and leg exercises.


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