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Post-Surgery and
Follow-Up Care

Nurse with stethoscope holding a red heart as a reminder for post surgery follow up care

Recovery times will depend on your age, overall health, and extent of surgery. You may be discharged on the day of surgery or kept in the hospital for a day or more. When you are discharged, you will receive instructions on how to care for yourself at home. Just like every patient is different, every cancer surgery is different. Recovery times and the time it takes to adjust to the changes to your body and in your life will vary.

Your surgeon and care team will give you recommendations about things like bathing, raising your arms, lifting objects, and exercise while you are recovering. Using ice packs can help ease symptoms you may have from bruising and swelling.

After Care for a Drain

If a drain was placed as part of your surgery, you will be asked to measure the amount of fluid as directed. This may need to be done and the drain emptied at least every 8 hours.


You can develop a seroma, which is a collection of fluid under the arm or incision. Don’t be alarmed if this forms anywhere from five to ten days after your surgery. A small amount of fluid is normal and will likely go away by itself within a few weeks after it appears. If the seroma is larger, your surgeon may need to drain it, pulling fluid out using a syringe and needle.


Swelling which can develop in the arm on the side of the surgery can develop when the normal flow of lymph fluid is reduced. This can happen when lymph nodes are surgically removed, or if the area under the arm is treated with radiation therapy. It can be an ongoing problem after surgery. To reduce the potential for problems associated with lymphedema, you can follow these recommendations:

  • Protect your arm and hand from infection, washing them often.

  • Avoid wearing anything binding on the arm that is on the side of your surgery. This includes not wearing tight sleeves, elastic cuffs, or jewelry, including bracelets or wristwatches on that arm.

  • Do not allow blood-pressure readings to be done on the affected arm if possible.

  • Regularly squeeze a rubber ball which will help improve circulation in that arm and prevent swelling.

At any time after your surgery, if you experience one or more of these symptoms, please call your doctor right away:

  • Fever of 100.4°F / 38.0°C or greater, with / without chills

  • Increase in pain, redness warmth, swelling, drainage, or bleeding at the site of the incision or drains

  • Swelling in the arm on the side of your surgery that gets worse instead of better

  • Chest pain
  • Cough that produces yellow, green, brown, or red sputum

  • Breathing difficulty including shortness of breath
  • Blood in urine, stools, or sputum
  • Dehydration: excessive thirst, dark urine, decreased urination
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, exhaustion, or extreme weakness

  • Nausea, vomiting, constipation, or uncontrolled diarrhea

  • Uncontrolled pain
  • Urination that is frequent, urgent, or painful / Low back pain