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Breast Cancer: Post Treatment 0 - 6 Months: Medical Care

What To Expect And Do After Breast Surgery

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Lymphedema is common after breast surgery. There are steps you can take to prevent it. 

Lymphedema is an accumulation of lymph fluid that may cause swelling in the arm following removal of lymph nodes. Unable to drain, the lymph fluid remains in the soft tissue where infections can develop. It is advisable to do what you can to avoid lymphedema which can be painful. For information about how to prevent and to control lymphedema if it does occur, click here.   


  • The area around the surgical site may continue to be sore for a while.
  • There may be some numbness in your underarm or back. 
  • If you had a modified radical mastectomy, you may feel numbness in your chest wall which should go away within a few months.


You are likely to experience mood disturbances and body image problems. For information on dealing with the emotional effects of treatment, see: Breast Cancer: Post Treatment 0 - 6 Months: Emotional Well Being.

Call your doctor if:

  • The site becomes infected
  • Soreness lingers longer than expected.

When to restart activities including exercise

  • Experience indicates that women recover most quickly if they return to normal activities as soon as possible after surgery.
  • For exercises to consider after breast surgery, click here.
  • When you can resume work depends to a large degree on the type of work you do. Your doctor will advise you when you can resume work.
  • Start aerobic exercises as soon as your doctor permits. 
    • The simplest aerobic exercises are walking, jogging, running and bike riding.  There are machines such as treadmills and stairmasters. Indoor and outdoor sports are generally aerobic exercises.
    • Start aerobic exercise slowly and gradually build up as your capacity expands. Push yourself a little, but not too much. Setbacks are discouraging. If you experience a setback, take some time off. When you resume, start at a lower level and gradually build back up.
    • As with all exercise, look for exercise that you enjoy - and check with your doctor before starting a new exercise. For more information, see: Exercise
  • Avoid exercise that involves overhead movement, such as tennis. (Wait until your wound has healed completely before returning to the tennis courts).
  • Keep in mind that it may take weeks or even months to recover your energy and strength. Most women can return to full activities after a few months.

Additional treatments  

If you haven’t already, even if your surgeon doesn’t bring it up, consider consulting with a medical oncologist to find out if he or she would recommend additional treatment based on the results of your surgery.

If surgery showed that the cancer has spread beyond the breast, radiation and/or chemotherapy may be recommended. 

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