What To Expect After Post-Mastectomy Reconstructive Surgery

If you've recently had or scheduled a mastectomy, you may already be mulling over your options for reconstructive surgery. Post-mastectomy breast reconstruction often involves the use of breast implants to help restore the breast's shape, size, and density. But putting your body through another surgical procedure after breast cancer can be tough. What should you expect after post-mastectomy breast reconstructive surgery, and is there anything you can do to make this process easier on your body?

What Happens During Reconstructive Surgery

Depending on how long it's been since your mastectomy and how large you'd like your reconstructed breasts to be, your surgery may take place in one or two stages. 

If needed, your surgeon may place "spacers" in your chest to expand the skin to accommodate the implant. In other cases, particularly if the reconstruction takes place shortly after the mastectomy, the surgeon who performs the mastectomy may leave enough excess skin to accommodate the implant without the need for spacers. 

During the reconstruction, the surgeon will place saline or silicone breast implants into your chest. If your nipples were removed during the mastectomy, new nipples may be reconstructed or even tattooed on later. A drain may be inserted to remove excess fluid; this drain will generally be removed a week or two after the surgery. 

Preparing For Your Recovery

Post-mastectomy breast reconstruction is often more involved than a breast augmentation and may mean a longer recovery. You'll likely be restricted from lifting anything over more than 5 or 10 pounds until you're cleared by your surgeon, and you'll experience some soreness and sensitivity for the first few weeks after surgery. Your surgeon may prescribe a small amount of narcotic pain relievers or recommend that you take over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

It's important to schedule your surgery during a time that will allow you to rest as much as you need. You may not want to plan to return to work for at least a couple of weeks after surgery, even if your job is sedentary—your body needs plenty of rest to allow it to recover and gain strength from the double-whammy of a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

A few weeks after the surgery, your swelling should diminish enough so that you can finally get a good glimpse at your post-reconstruction profile. Over the next few months, this swelling will further subside, allowing you the freedom to fully enjoy your new body. Learn more about breast reconstruction surgery today.