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

Your doctor may recommend a mastectomy, or surgical removal of the breast, as one kind of treatment for breast cancer. Breast surgery can include lumpectomy, mastectomy, or breast reconstruction. Surgery involves an incision, or a cut in the skin, and may involve the removal of lymph nodes. Your chest area will likely be tender and swollen from the surgery.

A comfort pillow, sometimes called a mastectomy pillow, can help bring relief during breast cancer treatment. Comfort pillows can be used to protect your incisions, reduce the strain on your surgical areas, and keep you comfortable. Your skin may be extra tender in the areas where the drainage tubes leave your body, and many people find that pillows help to make them more comfortable.

Support pillows are small, usually about 8 inches by 11 inches, or the size of a piece of paper. They should be small enough to fit under your arm and thin enough to place between your chest and your seat belt when you are in the car. 

Once you are moving around after surgery, comfort pillows can be your constant companion. You will likely find them useful when you are in the hospital, when you are at home, when you are riding in the car, and when you go to bed at night.  

This article will discuss 10 different kinds of comfort pillows that can help ease pain and soothe aching muscles during breast cancer surgery and treatment.

breast cancer recovery pillows
 Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Seat Belt Pillow

Use a small square or rectangular pillow to place between you and the upper-body seat belt. This comfort pillow will protect you from seat belt rubbing and will distribute the pressure across your chest.

Add a Velcro loop on one side of the pillow if you want to secure it to the seat belt while you travel in the car. Make sure the pillow is thick enough to protect your incisions but thin enough so that it does not reduce the effectiveness of your seat belt.

Armpit Comfort Pillow

Your lymph node status is important in diagnosing your breast cancer. Your surgeon may remove axillary, or armpit, lymph nodes. Two common procedures to check your lymph nodes are a sentinel node biopsy or an axillary lymph node dissection. These procedures, while critical to your diagnosis and staging, can cause your breast or armpit to be tender, tight, or uncomfortable. The breast and the armpit are areas where you have many nerves and where the skin often rubs together. Depending on your surgery, you may also have drainage tubes, which can be a source of discomfort.

Having an armpit pillow between your arm and chest can ease the pain of axillary and mastectomy incisions. Use a rounded or rectangular pillow to cushion your armpit area and decrease the feeling of skin and muscle pulling. You can add a shoulder strap to this pillow to help keep it in place.

Armrest Pillow

Armrest pillows are often called chemo pillows and bar or bone pillows because of the way they are shaped. The same pillow may be used in several different ways.

If you are going to be sitting still for a long chemotherapy infusion, supporting your arm may make you more comfortable. You may be surprised at how tender your arm can become resting on a firm armrest if you do not have a chemotherapy port (placed in your chest) or PICC line (usually placed in the upper arm) and will be receiving treatment through an IV (intravenous drip) in the crook of your arm.

You could also use this pillow while lying down to support your arm over your chest. Elevating your arm while resting may ease lymphedema (fluid buildup in soft tissue) symptoms. Use a bar-shaped pillow under your neck while resting or traveling to ease muscle strain.

Breast Support Pillow

After a lumpectomy or breast reconstruction, your breast may feel very tender. Having breast surgery changes the balance of weight on your chest muscles. Until you heal and your body adjusts, you might like to use a crest-shaped pillow to support your breast or your reconstruction. You can also use this pillow to provide comfort to any underarm incisions.

When your mastectomy heals, if you are having breast reconstruction, you may have tissue expanders in your chest. Your doctor will use the expander to help stretch your skin and muscles to make space for an implant. This is a slow process, and it is normal to feel tender for a few days after each expansion. Some women find this to be the most annoying (and uncomfortable) part of breast reconstruction. You may find that breast support pillows help provide relief as your skin stretches. 

Pillow Between Breasts

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 a little pillow 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 surgery. You might find that tucking a small rectangular 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 Pillow

Adding a pillow between your knees as you sleep on your side can ease lower back discomfort. When your back is comfortable, you will toss and turn less, and you may fall asleep faster. Try using a square or rectangular comfort pillow for your knee pillow. Having some space between your knees might even make sleeping a little cooler when a hot flash hits.

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

Sitting for long periods of time, 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. Blood clots in the legs are also known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and can be dangerous.

Neck Pillow


Neck pillows are available in many shapes. These come in bolsters, wraparounds, contoured, and even U-shaped pillows. Neck pillows help keep your head, neck, and shoulders properly lined up. Find or make one that works for you—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 pillow and see if it helps you stay comfortable.

You will be especially glad you brought your neck pillow if you will be receiving the chemotherapy drug named Taxol (paclitaxel). Often, doctors prescribe Taxol to reduce the chance of an allergic reaction. It can take from one hour up to 24 hours to infuse Taxol, depending on the dosage. Many times, familiar objects like support pillows help to make the experience more comfortable.

Lower Back Pillow

When you are going to sit or ride for a while, having a pillow for your lower back can help you stay comfortable. Place the pillow between the curve of your low back and the chair. Having extra support in your low back (lumbar region) can assist in preventing back tension and muscle strain. When your lower back is properly aligned, you can avoid nerve pain (sciatica) from sitting down for long periods.

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

Donut Pillow

A donut pillow is a hollowed-out round pillow that is shaped like a donut. These comfort pillows help to relieve pain in the tailbone (coccyx) that can be caused by spending a lot of time sitting. The opening in the pillow reduces pressure on the bottom of the spine. 

This pillow can also be useful if you are having hemorrhoid pain as a side effect of medication-induced constipation (difficulty with bowel movements). Pain medications, chemotherapy, and the drugs used to prevent chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting are important parts of your treatment but can lead to constipation.

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

Wedge Pillow

A wedge pillow is a triangle-shaped pillow that can be used in different positions. 

If after surgery you must sleep on your back while managing surgical drains and dressings, you will to need to keep your head and shoulders elevated. A wedge pillow can be very useful for this. 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 may be useful to people with asthma, acid reflux, and snoring problems.

Cancer Rehabilitation Can Help If Discomfort Persists

Comfort pillows can give you a much more positive experience after breast surgery. Unfortunately, some people will continue to have pain even when following their doctor's recommendations. In the past, this discomfort was largely ignored as surviving cancer was the main focus.

With survival rates improving, the long-term effects of treatment are now being better addressed. Researchers have learned that many people who have had breast cancer continue to have symptoms related to their treatment long after those therapies are done.

If your back or chest has continued pain, tightness, or trouble moving, talk to your oncologist about cancer rehabilitation options. Breast cancer surgery is associated with dysfunction in the back and chest muscles.

There are trained rehabilitation specialists to help improve movement and function after breast surgery. Many cancer centers now have rehabilitation programs to help survivors address ongoing issues.

Summary

Surgery for breast cancer can be uncomfortable due to the incisions, drains, and changes in your chest muscles. Comfort pillows come in different shapes and sizes. These pillows are often useful to support, protect, and help position to relieve pain and ease sore muscles.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you use a mastectomy pillow?

    Mastectomy pillows are used to relieve pressure, help position body parts, and provide comfort after breast surgery. These pillows can be placed under the breast, in the armpit, or used to prop up your arm or neck. Your healthcare team should show you how to use your pillows.

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

    Your doctor will give you instructions after your breast surgery. Depending on the scope of the surgery, you may have limitations on how much you can move your arms, how much you can lift, and how to sleep. Some doctors recommend sleeping on your back with your head and shoulders elevated. But, every surgery and person is different, so ask your doctor if you have any questions about positioning.

  • 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. They are useful for providing comfort and helping with positioning your body to help with pain and recovery. The wedge can go under your head and shoulders. It can also be used under your knees to relieve pressure on your lower back. 

    Some people also find that using a wedge pillow makes it easier to get in and out of bed because you won’t have to move as far to sit up.



Originally written by
Pam Stephan
Pam Stephan is a breast cancer survivor.
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14 Sources
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