What Happens After Breast Cancer Surgery?

17th Mar 2017

Life after breast cancer surgery

It can take some time to adjust to a new body shape after breast cancer surgery. The swelling and brusing will go down and the scars from your operation will become less obvious.

You'll become used to your new shape and false breast shape (prosthesis) if you wear one.

You are likely to find that your confidence will gradually come back. 

The emotional ups and down might last longer. You may find anxieties coming back when you go for a check up. Or new situations, such as being with a new partner, may bring up more insecurities.

Get care and support from others in whatever way is best for you.

Your feelings after breast surgery

The first few months after surgery can be very upsetting. You might have intense feelings including:

  • grief
  • fear
  • shock
  • anger

Your self confidence might also be affected.

People react very differently to surgery. Most women need time to come to terms with changes to their breast. Give yourself time to adjust. 

Talking to people who have had similar experiences can help. Ask your breast care nurse about local support groups or good on-line support groups.

How you will look after breast cancer surgery

Women find different ways of dealing with the changes to their bodies. You might prefer to see the results of the surgery for the first time alone. Or you may want someone to be with you when you take your first look.

Your surgeon will do all they can to make sure your scars are as discreet as possible. They will fade with time.

It can be hard to accept changes in your looks that you are not happy with.

You may be concerned about how your children will see you and how it might affect them. It is normal to worry about these things. But the people closest to you won't see you any differently as a person.

There are several things that may help you to cope with changes in the way your breasts look.

Finding out what to expect

Talk through your treatment with your surgeon and breast care nurse before your operation. It can help you deal with things later on. If you let your surgeon know that you want to have the complete picture, they will be honest with you.

You are likely to be very swollen and sore just after surgery, but this won't last too long.

Talking to people who've had similar surgery

Some people find this reassuring, but it isn't helpful for everyone. Your surgeon or breast care nurse might be able to put you in touch with someone who has had a similar operation. 

Looking in the mirror

It's usually best to wait until a day or two after your operation before you first look in a mirror.

You might want to have someone with you when you first look at your scars. Your first view might be a shock. You might see stitches and the area might be bruised or swollen. So it might be best if you have someone there to support you.

The hospital staff will be very aware of your feelings and do everything they can to reassure and help you.

Talking to people close to you

The best source of support for most of us is family and friends. You may feel worried about upsetting them. But it can help to share your feelings and the people close to you will want to support you.

Try and let your partner know if you're having problems with your intimate relationships after the changes to your body.

Sometimes counselling can help you to work through any worries you have.

Sex after breast cancer surgery

Breast surgery does not affect you being able to have sex. But your emotions might change your sexual feelings for a while. And you may worry about allowing your partner to see or touch your body.

There is no right or wrong way to approach this. You might feel very sensitive and need time to build up your courage to be looked at or touched by your partner. Or you might need almost instant comfort and find that a loving touch relieves your fear of being rejected.

You might find it helpful to take your partner with you for clinic visits before the operation. That way they will be prepared for how you will look after surgery.

Getting help and support

There are many people who can help and support you. Not everyone feels comfortable asking for help. Talk to someone you trust. Some organisations can put you in touch with women in your area who have been through the same experience. 

You can call the Cancer Research UK nurses on 0808 800 4040 from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, to talk about any concerns you have about breast cancer surgery and how you might look and feel afterwards.

 

Temporary prosthesis

If you have a mastectomy without breast reconstruction, your nurse will give you a lightweight fabric breast shape to put in your bra. This is often called a cumfie or softie.

You can wear it right after the operation if you want to, even if the area feels tender.

Some women are happy with their cumfie and continue wearing it instead of getting another type of permanent prosthesis.

Breast - temporary prosthesis

Permanent prosthesis

About 6 weeks after mastectomy, once your scar has healed and you have finished any radiotherapy you may need, you’ll be ready for your permanent prosthesis. This is made from silicone.

You have this fitted by the breast care nurse at the hospital where you had your surgery.

Breast - permanent prosthesis

Many types of breast prostheses are available free on the NHS.

If you are a private patient, you may have to pay for this. Or you can ask for a referral to the NHS prosthesis fitting service. 

The breast shapes come in different sizes, shapes and colours. Most women should be able to find something they are happy with on the NHS. But if not, there is more choice available.

Special mastectomy bras are available. They have pockets to hold the prosthesis. But you don't normally need a pocket. If your bra fits well and has full cups (rather than a low plunge), you should be fine. You can have pockets sewn inside your own bras free of charge on the NHS, if you want to. Ask your breast care nurse about this.

To look after your prosthesis, you should wash and dry it daily.

Swimming

You can wear your usual prosthesis or make your own swimming prosthesis by cutting an ordinary sponge to fit.

If you use your usual prosthesis, rinse it in clean water afterwards to get rid of any chlorine or salt.

If you use a sponge, you can discreetly press your arm against it when you come out of the water, to squeeze the water out. 

Many of the breast cancer organisations supply bras and swimwear for women who have had a mastectomy.
 

Partial prosthesis

Women who have had part of a breast removed can use a partial prosthesis or a shell prosthesis.

A partial prosthesis is shaped to fit the tissue you've had removed. It can fill out the bottom, top or side of your bra.

A shell prosthesis is a hollow breast shape that fits over your remaining breast tissue. With a bra on, your breast will look the same size and shape that it was.

Talk to your breast care nurse to find out about either of these special types of prosthesis.

Breast - partial prosthesis

Getting a new prosthesis

You can get a new artificial breast shape every 2 years on the NHS. You might need a new prosthesis if yours gets worn or damaged. You may also need to replace it if you gain or lose weight.

If you are not happy with the prosthetic breast forms supplied by the NHS, there are plenty more options available.  Here at Undercover Glamour, we supply tradition silicone and lightweight silicone breast forms which come in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit your needs.  You can find out more about our products using the links below.

 

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