10 Pillows to Use for Comfort During Breast Cancer Treatment and Recovery

Mastectomy Pillows Can Help Bring Relief During Treatment

A mastectomy pillow is specifically designed to help you heal after a mastectomy. It is usually small enough to fit under your arm and thin enough to be placed between your chest and your seat belt when riding in a car.

Mastectomy pillows protect your incisions by keeping pressure off your chest. It can also be a comfort aid while recovering from breast cancer treatment. Sometimes referred to as "comfort pillows," these specialized pillows are useful when you're in the hospital, at home, riding in the car, and in bed at night.  

This article will go over 10 different kinds of mastectomy pillows for breast cancer treatment and recovery from surgery.

breast cancer recovery pillows
 Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Seat Belt Mastectomy Pillow

One of the first times you'll want to use a mastectomy pillow is in the car going home after you have surgery.

A small square or rectangular pillow can be placed between you and the upper-body seat belt. To secure it in place, put a velcro loop on one side of the pillow.

This kind of mastectomy pillow will keep the seat belt from rubbing against your skin and reduces the pressure across your chest. Just make sure the pillow is thick enough to protect your incisions but thin enough that it won't reduce the effectiveness of your seat belt.

Armpit Mastectomy Pillow

Putting a mastectomy pillow under your armpit can be helpful if you had lymph nodes taken out during surgery.

Your lymph node status is an important part of diagnosing and staging breast cancer. Two common procedures to check your lymph nodes are a sentinel node biopsy or an axillary lymph node dissection. Your surgeon may remove some lymph nodes in your armpit (axillary lymph nodes).

Even though these are important procedures, they can cause your breast or armpit to be tender, tight, or uncomfortable.

The breast and the armpit areas have many nerves, and the skin on these areas often rubs together. You may have drainage tubes after surgery, which can also be a source of discomfort.

Using a mastectomy pillow under your armpit between your arm and chest can ease the pain of axillary and mastectomy incisions.

You can use a rounded or rectangular pillow to cushion your armpit area and decrease the feeling of skin and muscle pulling. Using a shoulder strap can help keep the mastectomy pillow in place.

Armrest Mastectomy Pillow

Armrest mastectomy pillows are also called "chemo pillows," "bar pillows," or "bone pillows" because of how they are shaped. You can use this type of mastectomy pillow in a few different ways.

If you are going to be sitting still for a long chemotherapy infusion, supporting your arm with a mastectomy pillow may make you more comfortable.

You might be surprised by how tender your arm can get when it's been resting on a firm armrest for a long time. This position might be necessary if you do not have a chemotherapy port placed in your chest or a PICC line placed in the upper arm. Instead, you'll need to get your treatment through an IV (intravenous drip) in the crook of your arm.

An armrest mastectomy pillow is also useful when lying down because it can support your arm over your chest. Elevating your arm while resting can help with symptoms caused by fluid buildup in soft tissue (lymphedema).

Using a bar-shaped mastectomy pillow under your neck while resting or traveling can ease muscle strain.

Breast Support Mastectomy Pillow

A mastectomy pillow for breast support can help ease pain, tenderness, and discomfort after a lumpectomy or breast reconstruction.

Having breast surgery changes the balance of weight on your chest muscles. While you heal and your body adjusts to the changes, using a crest-shaped mastectomy pillow can support your breasts. This kind of mastectomy pillow can also ease discomfort from underarm incisions.

If you are having breast reconstruction, you may have tissue expanders put in your chest once your mastectomy heals.

Your surgeon will use the expander to help stretch your skin and muscles to make space for a breast implant. This is a slow process, and it is normal to feel tender for a few days after each expansion.

For some people, the expanders are the uncomfortable part of breast reconstruction. You may find that breast support mastectomy pillows help provide relief as your skin stretches. 

Mastectomy Pillow Between Breasts

A mastectomy pillow you can use between your breasts will help with discomfort caused by the changes to your chest.

When you have had any kind of breast surgery, the balance of your chest changes. How much your balance changes depends on if you have had just breast tissue or breast and muscle removed.

You will gradually get used to your new balance, but you may find that having a little mastectomy pillow to put between your breasts helps you get through that transition.

If you sleep on your side, the weight of your breasts on your chest muscles may feel different than it did before you had surgery.

Tucking a small rectangular mastectomy pillow between your reconstructed breast and your healthy breast while sleeping helps relieve the discomfort—especially if you have expanders for your breast implant.

Knee Mastectomy Pillow

You might not think a mastectomy pillow could be helpful with pain beyond your breasts and chest, but it can be.

Putting any pillow between your knees when you sleep on your side can ease lower back pain.

If your back is comfortable, you will toss and turn less, and you may fall asleep faster. Try using a square or rectangular mastectomy pillow as a knee pillow. Having some space between your knees might even make sleeping a little cooler if you get hot flashes.

Depending on how you sleep, you might compress the veins in your leg. Using a knee pillow may take pressure off your blood vessels and allow for better blood flow.

Blood Clot Risks

Having a blood clot in your leg (deep vein thrombosis or DVT) can be dangerous—even life-threatening. Sitting for long periods, spending a lot of time in bed, and crossing your legs can raise the risk of blood clots. Surgery, chemotherapy, and cancer can all also raise the risk of blood clots.

Neck Pillow


Neck mastectomy pillows are available in many shapes. You can get bolsters, wraparounds, contoured, and even U-shaped pillows.

Mastectomy pillows for your neck help keep your head, neck, and shoulders properly lined up. A good neck pillow should make sitting and sleeping more comfortable for your neck and shoulders. 

If you are going to be sitting for chemotherapy treatment for more than an hour or resting on your back for a good while, try a neck mastectomy pillow and see if it makes you more comfortable.

You will be especially glad that you brought along this kind of mastectomy pillow if you will be receiving the chemotherapy drug named Taxol (paclitaxel).

Often, providers prescribe Taxol because it reduces the chance of an allergic reaction. It can take from one hour up to 24 hours to infuse Taxol, depending on the dosage. Having familiar objects like comfort pillows can make the experience easier to get through.

Lower Back Mastectomy Pillow

As with knee pillows, having a mastectomy pillow for your lower back can help you deal with aches and pains in different parts of your body.

If you are going to have to sit or ride for a while, having a mastectomy pillow to support your lower back can help you stay comfortable.

Place the mastectomy pillow between the curve of your low back and the chair. The extra support in your low back (lumbar region) helps prevent back tension and muscle strain. When your lower back is properly aligned, you can also avoid nerve pain (sciatica) if you're sitting for a long time.

Try different shapes and sizes of support pillows to see what works best for your body shape.

Donut Mastectomy Pillow

Rather than being a mastectomy pillow specifically, a donut pillow can help with some of the other discomforts that can come up during cancer treatment.

A donut pillow is a hollowed-out round pillow that is shaped like a donut. They relieve pain in the tailbone (coccyx) that can happen when you're sitting for a long time. The opening in the pillow reduces pressure on the bottom of the spine, especially if you have thin skin and less fat there because you've lost weight and muscle mass during treatment.

A donut pillow is also helpful for coping with hemorrhoid pain, which can become an issue if you have medication-induced constipation. Pain medications, chemotherapy, and the drugs used to prevent chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting are important parts of your treatment but are known to cause constipation.

For some people, donut pillows can also be used to relieve hip pain or anal pain.

Wedge Mastectomy Pillow

Another mastectomy pillow option to consider is a wedge pillow. This triangle-shaped pillow can be used in different positions. 

After surgery, you might have to sleep on your back. This can be tricky since you'll probably be managing surgical drains and dressings and will need to keep your head and shoulders elevated.

That's where a wedge pillow can be very useful. When placed under the head, a wedge can keep you from turning onto your side and accidentally lying on an incision or drain.

If your lower back is sore or achy, a wedge pillow can be placed under your knees and lower legs to elevate them. This flattens your spine to a more neutral, comfortable position. 

A good wedge pillow can also be useful to people with asthma, acid reflux, and snoring.

If Mastectomy Pillows Don't Help

Even with a good mastectomy pillow, some people will continue to have pain. Providers used to focus mostly on helping breast cancer patients survive, even telling them that pain is just part of the process.

With cancer survival rates improving, the long-term effects of treatment—including pain—are now being better addressed by providers. Researchers now know that many people who have had breast cancer continue to have symptoms long after they've finished treatment.

Breast cancer surgery is linked to dysfunction in the back and chest muscles. If you're still having back or chest pain and tightness or trouble moving, talk to your oncologist about rehabilitation.

Cancer rehabilitation specialists are trained to improve your movement and function after breast surgery. Many cancer centers now have rehabilitation programs to help survivors cope with the lingering pain and symptoms from the treatment.

Summary

Mastectomy pillows come in all shapes and sizes. You can even use other kinds of pillows, like knee pillows or donut pillows, to deal with the pain that's beyond your breasts and chests after you have surgery or while you're undergoing treatment.

Many people find that a good mastectomy pillow is comforting during their recovery, but it might not be enough to help with all your treatment-related pain. If you're still having discomfort and a pillow isn't helping, talk to your oncologist about cancer rehabilitation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you use a mastectomy pillow?

    Mastectomy pillows relieve pressure, help position the body, and provide comfort after breast surgery. You can put mastectomy pillows under or between your breasts, in your armpit, or to prop up your arm or neck. Your healthcare team can show you how to use each kind of mastectomy pillow.

  • What is the best way to sleep after breast surgery?

    Every breast cancer surgery and patient is different. Your breast cancer surgeon will give you instructions to follow during your recovery.

    You may have limitations on how much you can move your arms, how much you can lift, and how to sleep. Some surgeons recommend sleeping on your back with your head and shoulders elevated.

  • Do I need a wedge pillow after a mastectomy?

    If you need a wedge pillow after your mastectomy, your healthcare team will likely recommend one. While not always necessary, a wedge pillow can help after surgery.

    Wedge pillows are good for supporting and positioning your body. For example, the wedge can go under your head and shoulders or can be used under your knees to relieve the pressure on your lower back. 

    Some people find that using a wedge pillow makes it easier to get in and out of bed because they don't have to move as far to sit up.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Originally written by
Pam Stephan
Pam Stephan is a breast cancer survivor.
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