How to Recover After a Mastectomy

It takes about four to six weeks to recover from mastectomy surgery. Even after that point, there will be issues to manage and therapies to help you continue to heal.

There are guidelines for managing pain, taking medication, refining your diet, and starting physical activity as you’re ready, helping to make your recovery as quick and complete as possible.

This article discusses what you need to know as you recover from a mastectomy.

Woman with breast cancer

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Post-Op Recovery

Once your mastectomy surgery is complete, your recovery journey begins. You will go to the postoperative unit from the operating room, where healthcare providers will check your vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure, etc.). Your providers will administer medications for pain and any other symptoms you’re experiencing, such as nausea

Your medical team will also assess your drains, which are tubes placed in your surgical site meant to collect excess fluid and carry it out of your body. The tubes are connected to soft plastic bulbs that need to be emptied periodically. 

Once you are stable, your healthcare providers will bring you to your hospital room, where you will remain as you recover. Depending on the extent of your surgery, you may go home the day of your surgery or stay in the hospital for a few nights. The average length of stay after a mastectomy is three days. 


Medication is an important part of your surgical recovery. Before discharging you from the hospital, your surgeon will discuss pain management at home. Your treatment plan may include the following types of medications:

Many hospitals have adopted the enhanced recovery after surgery (ERAS) model to control pain after mastectomy. This multidisciplinary approach reduces the need for opioids and involves less fasting before and after surgery, early mobilization (walking), and different pain medications. 


Your medical team will provide instructions on caring for your dressing and surgical site when you are at home. You may be asked not to remove your bandage until your first follow-up appointment with your surgical team.

Most people who undergo a mastectomy have stitches (sutures) that dissolve over time. This means that they do not have to be removed. 

If you go home with drains from your surgical site, you must empty the plastic bulb as it fills up with fluid. Your surgeon will likely remove the drains at your first follow-up appointment. 

As you care for your dressing, pay attention to how your skin looks around the surgical site. If the skin becomes red and swollen or you notice pus coming from the site, call your healthcare provider, as these are signs of infection.


A healthy diet is an important part of recovering from surgery. A nutritious diet can also help your body cope with cancer treatments' side effects. When planning your weekly meals, focus on the following foods:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains (oatmeal or wheat bread)
  • Lean proteins (chicken breast)
  • Healthy fats (nuts, fish, and avocados)


A mastectomy can affect how you’re able to move your shoulders and arms. You will likely experience some pain, stiffness, weakness, and limited mobility. Ask your surgical team when you can start moving again. A home exercise program can help reduce pain and make movement easier. 

Once your surgeon has given you the OK to be active again, which is about three to seven days after surgery, start by doing your normal daily activities. This may include getting yourself dressed and feeding yourself. 

Once you start your home exercise program, know it is normal to feel tightness and soreness. Call your healthcare provider if you are in too much pain to follow your schedule. 

Your medical team will likely recommend the following exercises about four to six weeks after surgery:

  • Fitness exercises to improve your breathing capacity
  • Exercises to reduce the risk of lymphedema (swelling)
  • Strengthening exercises to improve your overall health

Follow-Up Appointments

Your follow-up schedule will vary depending on the extent of your surgery and how your recovery is going. Expect to see your surgical team one to two days after you return from the hospital. You will likely see your surgeon for an appointment about a week after returning home. 


Several possible complications can occur after mastectomy, including:

  • Infection: Increasing pain, redness, swelling, pus, fever
  • Bleeding: Oozing or bleeding from the surgical site
  • Lymphedema: Abnormal swelling in the arm, hand, breast area, or underarm
  • Hematoma: Buildup of blood in the surgical site
  • Seroma: Buildup of clear fluid in the surgical site
  • Neuropathic pain: Burning or shooting pain, pins and needles, numbness 
  • Limited mobility 
  • Pain

When to Call Your Healthcare Provider

It’s important to stay in close contact with your healthcare team after a mastectomy; let them know if you have any questions or concerns. If you notice any of the following symptoms, see your provider:

  • Fever
  • Increasing pain, redness, or swelling
  • Numbness in the affected arm
  • Increased bleeding or pus coming from your surgical site


After a mastectomy, your body needs time to recover. It usually takes four to six weeks for the initial recovery period. During this time, focus on rest, managing your pain with medications and gentle movement, nutritious food, and caring for your dressing. Call your healthcare provider immediately if you develop any signs of infection, such as a fever or pus.

A Word From Verywell 

A mastectomy can be a life-changing experience, and the recovery period is significant. This is an important time to ask for help. Think through the areas of your life in which you could use support in your post-operative period. You may seek meal preparation, laundry, grocery shopping, and childcare support. You may also consider meeting with a therapist or support group.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take to recover from a mastectomy?

    It takes about four to six weeks to recover from mastectomy surgery. Even after that point, there will be issues to manage and therapies to help you continue to heal.

  • What is the fluid that drains after a mastectomy?

    The liquid that drains from a mastectomy site is a clear liquid known as the serous liquid. This is the liquid that is normally found between the organs. 

  • What are the possible complications of a mastectomy?

    The possible complications of a mastectomy include infection, bleeding, lymphedema, hematoma, seroma, neuropathic pain, and limited mobility. Call your healthcare provider any time you have questions or concerns. 

8 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. Mastectomy: What to expect.

  2. American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology. Enhanced recovery after surgery.

  3. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Foods to keep in your diet before and after a mastectomy.

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

  5. American Cancer Society. What is a mastectomy?.

  6. Chappell AG, Yuksel S, Sasson DC, Wescott AB, Connor LM, Ellis MF. Post-mastectomy pain syndrome: An up-to-date review of treatment outcomes. JPRAS Open. 2021;30:97-109. doi:10.1016/j.jpra.2021.07.006

  7. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Mastectomy.

  8. Jhala N, Jhala D, Shidham VB. Serous fluid: Reactive conditions. Cytojournal. 2022;19:14. doi:10.25259/CMAS_02_06_2021

By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH
Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.