Surgery is just one treatment option for breast cancer, but it’s a common one: “Most people I diagnose with breast cancer will have surgery at some point during their treatment,” says Jaime Alberty-Oller, MD, breast cancer oncologist and surgeon at Dubin Breast Center, Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
It’s common for women to have many questions when a lumpectomy for breast cancer is recommended, according to Dr. Alberty-Oller. Many women are curious about breast reconstruction, the type of surgery, and the expected recovery time.
A lumpectomy is a surgery that removes just the breast cancer tumor and some surrounding tissue from the breast, whereas a mastectomy removes the entire breast or breasts. “It’s very individualized, but the majority of patients [who] have very small cancers are very good lumpectomy candidates,” says Dr. Alberty-Oller.
Knowing what to expect is important—especially since there are many myths about surgery for breast cancer. Here are some things you can expect after a lumpectomy for breast cancer:
Appearance: Lumpectomies should not significantly alter the appearance of your breasts.
Recovery: Typically, patients undergoing a lumpectomy recover faster than those undergoing a mastectomy. “Usually within a couple days, they should feel fine,” says Dr. Alberty-Oller. Check out this simple stretch to improve mobility after breast cancer surgery.
Side effects: The most common side effects after a lumpectomy include general pain, localized swelling around the breast area, numbness or neuropathy, and collections of fluid or blood.
Clothing: The recovery time may require you to dress a little differently. For example, it’s recommended to wear sports bras during your recovery since they can provide more support (to prevent uncomfortable movement or bouncing) and control swelling. Here are tips for what to wear after breast cancer surgery.
Exercise: It’s recommended to avoid exercise for at least a week or more. Follow up with your surgeon before engaging in exercise after a lumpectomy. “Proceed with caution. We don’t want them to bleed into their lumpectomy cavities,” says Dr. Alberty-Oller.
Work: “Most patients [who] choose a lumpectomy are able to get back to work a lot quicker than if they chose mastectomy. Within two to three days, they should feel fine enough to go to work,” says Dr. Alberty-Oller. Mastectomies, on the other hand, may keep you away from work for a week or so.
Breast cancer, and breast cancer treatment, can take a toll on a woman’s body image. (Find out here how actual breast cancer survivors adjusted to their new normal.) For those who qualify, lumpectomies can be a great option for treating the cancer without changing the look of the breasts.
“You’re trying to offer the woman the chance not to be reminded of her breast cancer surgery every single day when she looks at herself in the mirror,” says Dr. Alberty-Oller.