Breast Reconstruction After Mastectomy

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After breast reconstruction surgery

What to expect

You’re likely to feel tired and sore for a week or 2 after implant surgery, and longer after flap procedures (which will leave you with 2 surgical wounds). Your doctor will give you medicines to control pain and other discomfort.

Depending on the type of surgery, you should go home from the hospital in 1 to 6 days. You may be discharged with one or more drains in place. A drain is a small tube that’s put in the wound to remove extra fluid from the surgery site while it heals. In most cases, fluid drains into a little hollow ball that you’ll learn to empty before you leave the hospital. Follow your doctor’s instructions on wound and drain care. Also be sure to ask what kind of support garments you should wear. If you have any concerns or questions, call your doctor.

Getting back to normal

You should be up and around in 6 to 8 weeks. If implants are used without flaps, your recovery time may be shorter. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Reconstruction does not restore normal feeling to your breast, but some feeling may return over a period of years.
  • It may take up to about 8 weeks for bruising and swelling to go away. Try to be patient as you wait to see the final result.
  • It may take as long as 1 to 2 years for tissues to heal and scars to fade, but the scars never totally go away.
  • Ask when you can go back to wearing regular bras. Talk with your surgeon about the type of bra to wear – sometimes it will depend on the type of surgery you had. After you heal, underwires and lace might feel uncomfortable if they press on scars or rub your skin.
  • Follow your surgeon’s advice on when to begin stretching exercises and normal activities, because it’s different with different types of reconstruction. As a rule, you’ll want to avoid any overhead lifting, strenuous sports, and some sexual activities for 4 to 6 weeks after reconstruction. Check with your surgeon for specific guidance.
  • Women who have reconstruction months or years after a mastectomy go through a period of emotional adjustment once they’ve had their breast reconstructed. Just as it takes time to get used to the loss of a breast, it takes time to start thinking of the reconstructed breast as your own. Talking with other women who have had breast reconstruction might be helpful. Talking with a mental health professional might also help you sort out anxiety and other distressing feelings.
  • Silicone gel implants may open up or leak inside the body without causing symptoms. Surgeons usually recommend regular magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of implants to make sure they aren’t leaking. (This isn’t needed with saline implants.) You’ll likely have your first MRI 1 to 3 years after your implant surgery and every 2 years from then on, although it may vary by implant. Your insurance might not cover this. Be sure to talk to your doctor about long-term follow-up.
  • Call your doctor right away if you notice any new skin changes, swelling, lumps, pain, or fluid from the breast, armpit, or flap donor site, or if you have other symptoms that concern you.

For more information on coping after cancer, see our documents called After Diagnosis: A Guide for Patients and Families and Sexuality for the Woman With Cancer. They are available on our website,, or you can have copies sent to you by calling 1-800-227-2345.

Last Medical Review: 12/05/2014
Last Revised: 10/20/2015