Post-Lumpectomy Care Guide

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A lumpectomy is a surgical procedure to remove a small portion of cancerous breast tissue or tissue suspected to be cancerous. Also known as a partial mastectomy or breast-conserving surgery, a lumpectomy is best for people with breast cancer who only have a single, small area of tissue that needs removal.

While a lumpectomy is less invasive than a mastectomy, it still has a weeklong recovery period. During this time, taking proper care of the incision, avoiding strenuous physical activity, and finding a comfortable sleep position is fundamental for healing.

This article explains everything you need to know about post-lumpectomy care.

A woman reading a book in bed.

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Post-Lumpectomy Care Instructions

Proper post-lumpectomy care is vital for recovery and healing. Measures include keeping the wound clean, taking medication on a proper schedule, sleeping in the correct position, and more. Below are the basics you need to know about recovering from a lumpectomy.

Healing the Wound

After a lumpectomy, there will be an incision from the breast tissue removal that must heal. Taking care of this incision is imperative for both healing and avoiding infection.

Incision care includes:

  • Keeping the area clean: Use an antibacterial soap, avoid getting the dressing wet, and change bandages as instructed.
  • Changing the dressing: Changing the dressing helps keep the area clean and prevents infection. Your healthcare provider will have specific information about how often you must change your dressing.
  • Watching for signs of infection: Infection is possible post-op, so make sure you look for signs of infection; this includes pus or drainage, a bad smell, redness, tenderness, pain, and an incision that is hot to the touch.
  • Being gentle with the incision: This includes everything from no heavy lifting to no scrubbing at the incision to avoid causing damage to the surgical site.
  • Take care of surgical drains if applicable: Sometimes, surgical drains may be needed post-lumpectomy. If a surgical drain is necessary, you must empty the fluid a few times daily for around one to two weeks.

Talk to your healthcare provider about the specifics of your recovery and about any concerns you may have.

Signs of Infection and Other Reasons to Seek Medical Attention

Look for signs of infection at the incision site, including pus or drainage, a foul odor from the wound, redness, pain, tenderness, hot skin, and fever or chills. Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.

Other potential reasons to seek medical attention after a lumpectomy include pain that isn't relieved by over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers.

Medication Schedule

While a lumpectomy is less-invasive than a mastectomy, some pain is still expected post-op. Pain relievers, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), are recommended to help manage the pain.

Adults can take 650 to 1,000 milligrams (mg) every four to six hours as needed but should not exceed 10 capsules or tablets within 24 hours unless directed by their healthcare team.

Sleep Positions

Plan to sleep on your back to avoid putting pressure on the surgical area. Proper sleep is important for recovery; some general tips for deeper sleep include:

  • Keep your bedroom cool.
  • Avoid caffeine before bedtime.
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.

Physical Limitations

For one to two weeks following a lumpectomy, you should avoid heavy lifting, jogging, or any other physical activity that could cause pain in the surgical area.

Arm exercises, however, can be helpful during recovery and can help you regain movement. Clear these exercises with your healthcare provider before doing them at home.

When you are cleared to start working out again, go slowly. Stop exercising and contact your healthcare provider immediately if any of the following occur:

  • You start experiencing balance issues.
  • You become weaker.
  • Your pain worsens.
  • You notice new heaviness, aching, tightness, or any other unusual sensations in your arm.
  • You see swelling.
  • You begin having headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, new numbness, or tingling in your arms or chest.

What to Wear

After your lumpectomy, a soft bra with solid support, such as a sports or compression bra, may be recommended. Speak with your healthcare provider to determine options that work for you.

Time Off Work and Personal Responsibilities

Depending on the extent of your lumpectomy, you may need help around the house, assistance with kids if you have them, and time off work. Be sure to plan ahead and arrange childcare and time for healing and recovery.

Lumpectomy With Biopsy and Recovery Time

Recovery time will be affected if your lumpectomy requires a biopsy (removing a sample of tissue to be sent to a lab). After a lumpectomy with a lymph node biopsy, a week off work and other responsibilities may be necessary to heal.

Scar Tissue Around Lumpectomy Incision

After a lumpectomy, a scar or dimpling where the tissue was removed may form, as well as a hard or firm surgical scar and lymphedema (type of swelling).

To reduce scarring from a lumpectomy, the following steps can be taken:

  • Avoid infection by practicing proper wound care.
  • Stay out of the sun.
  • Perform daily massages on the scar tissue (only after the wound has healed).
  • Consider chemical peels, laser therapy, or topical bleaching (only after the wound has healed).


A lumpectomy is a surgical procedure to remove a small portion of breast tissue that is cancerous or suspected to be cancerous. For most people who undergo a lumpectomy, recovery time is around one week.

During this period, taking proper care of your incision, wearing appropriate clothing, taking medications as prescribed, sleeping on your back, and taking time off work and personal responsibilities are essential. If there are signs of infection, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are bras recommended after a lumpectomy?

    A soft bra that provides support, such as a sports bra, is recommended following a lumpectomy.

  • Can you get your lumpectomy scar wet in the shower?

    It depends on your specific situation. Typically, you do not want to get your surgical area wet for a prolonged period. Talk to your healthcare provider about bathing instructions following your procedure.

  • What affects lumpectomy recovery time?

    The biggest factor impacting lumpectomy recovery time is the size of the mass removed and the size of the tumor in relation to the size of your breast. Age, pregnancy, family history, and general health also play a role.

6 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.
  1. MedlinePlus. Breast lump removal.

  2. MedlinePlus. Surgical wound infection - treatment.

  3. DailyMed. Label: Tylenol regular strength - acetaminophen tablet, film coated.

  4. American Cancer Society. Exercising after breast cancer surgery.

  5. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Lumpectomy.

  6. American Cancer Society. Breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy).

By Molly Burford
Molly Burford is a mental health advocate and wellness book author with almost 10 years of experience in digital media.