About Your Lumpectomy and Axillary Surgery

This guide will help you prepare for your lumpectomy and axillary surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK). It will also help you understand what to expect during your recovery.

Read through this guide at least once before your surgery and use it as a reference in the days leading up to your surgery.

Bring this guide with you every time you come to MSK, including the day of your surgery. You and your healthcare team will refer to it throughout your care.

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About Your Surgery

Lumpectomy is a surgery that removes a malignant (cancerous) tumor from your breast. It removes only the tumor and a small area of normal tissue around it. A lumpectomy is a breast conserving surgery that allows you to keep your breast shape and, usually, your nipple.

This guide contains information about several types of breast surgeries. You may be having a:

  • Lumpectomy and sentinel lymph node biopsy
  • Lumpectomy and sentinel lymph node biopsy; possible axillary lymph node dissection
  • Lumpectomy and axillary node dissection
  • Another similar surgery

About Your lymphatic system

Understanding how your lymphatic system works can be helpful, especially if you are having a sentinel lymph node biopsy or an axillary node dissection. Your lymphatic system is made up of:

  • Lymph nodes, which are small, bean-shaped structures located along your lymphatic vessels (see Figure 1). Your lymph nodes filter out bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, and other waste products.
  • Lymphatic vessels, which are tiny tubes, similar to blood vessels, which carry fluid to and from your lymph nodes.
  • Lymphatic fluid, which is the clear fluid that travels though your lymphatic system. It carries cells that help fight infections and other diseases.
Figure 1. Normal lymph drainage

Figure 1. Normal lymph drainage

The lymph nodes in your armpit may be examined during your surgery to determine if the cancer has spread. In most cases, lymph nodes are examined by performing a sentinel lymph node biopsy.

A sentinel lymph node biopsy is the removal of the first node(s) in your armpit that receives drainage from the breast tumor. This node(s) is identified by injecting a special dye into your breast. If you are having a sentinel lymph node biopsy, you may have lymphatic mapping as part of your surgery. More information about this procedure is included later in this guide.

After the sentinel lymph node(s) is removed, it may be examined by the pathologist during your surgery. If any cancer cells are found in the sentinel node(s), an axillary lymph node dissection may then be performed. An axillary lymph node dissection is the removal of most or all of the nodes found in your armpit. The number of nodes varies from person to person.

Breast seed localization

Some people may also need to have a breast seed localization. This is a procedure in which a tiny metal seed is placed into abnormal breast tissue to help your surgeon find the tissue during your surgery. If you are having a breast seed localization, your nurse will give you more information about it.

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Before Your Surgery

The information in this section will help you get ready for your surgery. Read through this section when your surgery is scheduled and refer to it as your surgery date gets closer. It has important information about what you need to do before your surgery.

Write down your questions and be sure to ask your healthcare provider.

Preparing for your surgery

You and your healthcare team will work together to prepare you for surgery.

Help us keep you safe during your surgery by telling us if any of the following statements apply to you, even if you aren’t sure.

  • I take a blood thinner. Some examples are heparin, warfarin (Coumadin®), clopidogrel (Plavix®), enoxaparin (Lovenox®), and tinzaparin (Innohep®). There are others, so be sure your doctor knows all the medications you’re taking.
  • I take prescription medications, including patches and creams.
  • I take any over-the-counter medications, herbs, vitamins, minerals, or natural or home remedies.
  • I have a pacemaker, automatic implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (AICD), or other heart device.
  • I have sleep apnea.
  • I have had a problem with anesthesia in the past.
  • I am allergic to certain medication(s) or materials, including latex.
  • I am not willing to receive a blood transfusion.
  • I drink alcohol.
  • I smoke.
  • I use recreational drugs.

Preventing pregnancy

If there is any chance that you could become pregnant before your surgery, be sure to use a form of birth control that does not have hormones. For example you may use a male condom, a diaphragm, or a Copper T IUD. If you have any questions about birth control, or for help deciding the type of birth control that’s right for you, talk with your healthcare provider.

Fertility preservation

Many women should avoid becoming pregnant during their treatment. If your doctor has told you to avoid pregnancy for some time and you want to have children in the future, you may want to consider banking your eggs. For more information, ask your nurse for the resource Fertility Preservation: Options for Women Who Are Starting Cancer Treatment.

About drinking alcohol

The amount of alcohol you drink can affect you during and after your surgery. It is important that you talk with your healthcare providers about your alcohol intake so that we can plan your care.

  • Stopping alcohol suddenly can cause seizures, delirium, and death. If we know you are at risk for these complications, we can prescribe medication to help prevent them.
  • If you use alcohol regularly, you may be at risk for other complications during and after surgery. These include bleeding, infections, heart problems, and a longer hospital stay.

Here are things you can do to prevent problems before your surgery:

  • Be honest with your healthcare provider about how much alcohol you drink.
  • Try to stop drinking alcohol once your surgery is planned. If you develop a headache, nausea, increased anxiety, or cannot sleep after you stop drinking, tell your doctor right away. These are early signs of alcohol withdrawal and can be treated.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you cannot stop drinking.
  • Ask us any questions you have about drinking and surgery. As always, all of your medical information will be kept confidential.

About smoking

People who smoke can have breathing problems when they have surgery. Stopping even for a few days before surgery can help. If you smoke, your nurse will refer you to our Tobacco Treatment Program. You can also reach the program at 212-610-0507.

About sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a common breathing disorder that causes a person to stop breathing for short periods while sleeping. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This means that the airway becomes completely blocked during sleep. It can cause serious problems during and after surgery.

Please tell us if you have sleep apnea or if you think you might have it. If you use a breathing machine (CPAP) for sleep apnea, bring it with you the day of your surgery.

Within 30 days of your surgery

Presurgical Testing (PST)

Before your surgery, you will have an appointment for presurgical testing (PST). The date, time, and location of your PST appointment will be printed on the appointment reminder from your surgeon’s office. You can eat and take your usual medications the day of your PST appointment.

During your appointment, you will meet with a nurse practitioner who works closely with anesthesiology staff (doctors and specialized nurses who will be giving you medication to put you to sleep during your surgery). Your nurse practitioner will review your medical and surgical history with you. You may have tests, including an electrocardiogram (EKG) to check your heart rhythm, blood tests, and any other tests necessary to plan your care. Your nurse practitioner may also recommend you see other healthcare providers.

Tell your nurse practitioner if you are breastfeeding or pumping your breastmilk for your child.

Your nurse practitioner will talk with you about which medications you should take the morning of your surgery.

It is very helpful if you bring the following with you to your PST appointment:

  • A list of all the medications you are taking.
  • Results of any tests done outside of MSK, such as a cardiac stress test, echocardiogram, or carotid doppler study.
  • The name(s) and telephone number(s) of your doctor(s).

Complete a Health Care Proxy Form

If you haven’t already completed a Health Care Proxy form, we recommend you complete one now. A health care proxy is a legal document that identifies the person who will speak for you if you are unable to communicate for yourself. The person you identify is called your health care agent.

If you are interested in completing a Health Care Proxy form, talk with your nurse. If you have completed one already, or if you have any other advance directive, bring it with you to your next appointment.

Identify your caregiver

Your caregiver plays an important role in your care. They will learn about your surgery with you from your healthcare provider. Your caregiver will need to be present after your surgery for the discharge instructions so that they are able to help you care for yourself at home. Your caregiver will also need to take you home after your surgery.

Arrange for someone to take you home

You must have a responsible care partner take you home after your surgery. A responsible care partner is someone who can help you get home safely and report concerns to your healthcare providers, if needed. Make sure to plan this before the day of your surgery.

If you don’t have a responsible care partner to take you home, call one of the agencies below. They’ll send someone to go home with you. There’s usually a charge for this service, and you’ll need to provide transportation. It’s OK to use a taxi or car service, but you must still have a responsible care partner with you.

Agencies in New York                                     Agencies in New Jersey
Partners in Care: 888-735-8913                                     Caring People: 877-227-4649
Caring People: 877-227-4649                                      


Try to do aerobic exercise every day, such as walking at least 1 mile, swimming, or biking. If it is cold outside, use stairs in your home or go to a mall or shopping market. Walking will help your body get into its best condition for your surgery and make your recovery faster and easier.

Eat a healthy diet

Eat a well-balanced, healthy diet before your surgery. If you need help with your diet, talk with your doctor or nurse about meeting with a dietitian.

Buy a 4% chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG) solution antiseptic skin cleanser (such as Hibiclens®)

4% CHG solution is a skin cleanser that kills germs for 24 hours after you use it. Showering with it before your surgery will help lower your risk of infection after surgery. You can buy a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser before leaving the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center or at your local pharmacy without a prescription.

7 days before your surgery

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for taking aspirin

If you take aspirin or a medication that contains aspirin, you may need to change your dose or stop taking it 7 days before your surgery. Aspirin can cause bleeding.

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Don’t stop taking aspirin unless they tell you to. For more information, read the resource Common Medications Containing Aspirin, Other Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), or Vitamin E.

Stop taking vitamin E, multivitamins, herbal remedies, and other dietary supplements

Stop taking vitamin E, multivitamins, herbal remedies, and other dietary supplements 7 days before your surgery. These things can cause bleeding. For more information, read the resource Herbal Remedies and Cancer Treatment.

2 days before your surgery

Stop taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Stop taking NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) and naproxen (Aleve®), 2 days before your surgery. These medications can cause bleeding. For more information, read the resource Common Medications Containing Aspirin, Other Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), or Vitamin E.

1 day before your surgery

Note the time of your surgery

A clerk from the Admitting Office will call you after 2:00 pm the day before your surgery. They will tell you what time you should arrive for your surgery. If you are scheduled for surgery on Monday you will be called on the Friday before. If you do not receive a call by 7:00 pm, please call 212-639-5014.

Lymphatic mapping with sentinel lymph node biopsy

If you are having a sentinel lymph node biopsy, you may have lymphatic mapping as part of your surgery. The mapping will be performed the day before or the morning of your surgery. If you are also having breast seed localization, it may be scheduled before your lymphatic mapping.

Lymphatic mapping

During your lymphatic mapping, you will lie on an exam table while you receive an injection of a small amount of a radioactive liquid near the site of the cancer. During the injection, you may feel a stinging or burning sensation. The radioactive liquid will travel to the sentinel node(s) so they can be seen later during your nuclear medicine scan. While you wait for your scan, you can either stay in the hospital or leave for a while. However, you must return on time for your scan, so be sure to note the time you’re told to return.

When it’s time for your scan, your technologist will take you to the scanning room. You will lie on a narrow table while they takes a series of pictures. Each picture takes 5 minutes, and you must lie very still during this time. If you feel uncomfortable staying in any position for 5 minutes, ask your technologist to count down the time for you. The scan will take 10 to 15 minutes.

The pictures taken during your scan will show the flow of the radioactive liquid and which lymph nodes absorb the radioactive dye. This information will be used by your surgeon as a guide (or map) to determine the location of the sentinel node(s).

If you are having surgery the same day as your mapping, you will be escorted from the scanning room to the operating room. In most other cases, you will go home after the mapping.

Sentinel node biopsy

Your sentinel lymph node biopsy will take place during surgery. After you are asleep from the anesthesia, your surgeon will inject a small amount of blue dye underneath your nipple or near the site of the cancer. This dye will travel in your lymphatic fluid to the sentinel node(s), staining them blue.

If you had lymphatic mapping, your surgeon will also use a small device that measures radioactivity from the liquid that was injected. Once the sentinel node(s) are located, your surgeon will make a small incision. The sentinel nodes will be blue from the blue dye, allowing your surgeon to see them. They will remove the sentinel node(s) and they will be examined by the Pathology department to see if they contain cancer cells.

If the sentinel nodes do contain cancer cells, you may need to have additional lymph nodes removed. This is called an axillary lymph node dissection.

Because blue dye was used during your procedure, your skin, urine, and stool may be a bluish-green color for 24 to 48 hours.

Shower with a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser (such as Hibiclens)

The night before your surgery, shower using a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser.

  1. Use your normal shampoo to wash your hair. Rinse your head well.
  2. Use your normal soap to wash your face and genital area. Rinse your body well with warm water.
  3. Open the 4% CHG solution bottle. Pour some into your hand or a clean washcloth.
  4. Move away from the shower stream. Rub the 4% CHG solution gently over your body from your neck to your feet. Don’t put it on your face or genital area.
  5. Move back into the shower stream to rinse off the 4% CHG solution. Use warm water.
  6. Dry yourself off with a clean towel after your shower.
  7. Don’t put on any lotion, cream, deodorant, makeup, powder, perfume, or cologne after your shower.


Go to bed early and get a full night’s sleep.

Instructions for eating before your surgery

Do not eat anything after midnight the night before your surgery. This includes hard candy and gum.

The morning of your surgery

Instructions for drinking before your surgery

‌  You can drink a total of 12 ounces of water between midnight and 2 hours before your scheduled arrival time. Do not drink anything else.

Do not drink anything starting 2 hours before your scheduled arrival time. This includes water.

Take your medications as instructed

If your doctor or nurse practitioner instructed you to take certain medications the morning of your surgery, take only those medications with a small sip of water. Depending on what medications you take and the surgery you’re having, this may be all, some, or none of your usual morning medications.

Shower with a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser (such as Hibiclens)

Shower with a 4% CHG solution antiseptic skin cleanser before you leave for the hospital. Use it the same way you did the night before.

Don’t put on any lotion, cream, deodorant, makeup, powder, perfume, or cologne after your shower.

Things to remember

  • Don’t put on any lotion, cream, deodorant, make-up, powder, or perfume.
  • Don’t wear any metal objects. Remove all jewelry, including body piercings. The equipment used during your surgery can cause burns if it touches metal.
  • Leave valuables, such as credit cards, jewelry, or your checkbook, at home.
  • Before you are taken into the operating room, you will need to remove your eyeglasses, hearing aids, dentures, prosthetic device(s), wig, and religious articles, such as a rosary.
  • If you wear contact lenses, wear your glasses instead.

What to bring

  • A button-down or loose fitting top
  • A supportive bra, such as a sports bra, to wear after your surgery.
  • Only the money you may need for a newspaper, bus, taxi, or parking.
  • Your portable music player if you choose. However someone will need to hold it for you when you go into surgery.
  • Your breathing machine for sleep apnea (such as your CPAP), if you have one.
  • A case for your personal items, such as eyeglasses, hearing aid(s), dentures, prosthetic device(s), wig, and religious articles.
  • Your Health Care Proxy form, if you have completed one.
  • This guide. Your healthcare team will use this guide to teach you how to care for yourself after your surgery.

Once you’ve arrived for your surgery

You will be asked to state and spell your name and birth date many times. This is for your safety. People with the same or similar names may be having surgery on the same day.

Get dressed for your surgery

When it is time to change for surgery, you will get a hospital gown, robe, and nonskid socks to wear.

Meet with your nurse

You will meet with your nurse before your surgery. Tell your nurse the dose of any medications (including patches and creams) you took after midnight and the time you took them.

Meet with your anesthesiologist

Your anesthesiologist will:

  • Review your medical history with you.
  • Talk with you about your comfort and safety during your surgery.
  • Talk with you about the kind of anesthesia you will receive.
  • Answer any questions you may have about your anesthesia.
Marking your surgical site

In addition to being asked your name and birth date, you may also be asked the name of your surgeon, what operation you are having, and which side is being operated on. Your surgeon or another member of the surgical team will use a marker to initial the site on your body that will be operated on. This is for your safety and ensures that all members of your surgical team understand the plan for your surgery.

Prepare for surgery

You will either walk into the operating room or be taken in on a stretcher. A member of the operating room team will help you onto the operating bed. Compression boots may be placed on your lower legs. These gently inflate and deflate to help circulation in your legs.

Once you’re comfortable, your anesthesiologist will give you anesthesia through your IV line and you will fall asleep. You will also get fluids through your IV line during and after your surgery.

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After Your Surgery

The information in this section will tell you what to expect after your surgery, both during your hospital stay and after you leave the hospital. You’ll learn how to safely recover from your surgery.

Write down your questions and be sure to ask your healthcare provider.

What to expect

When you wake up after your surgery, you will be in the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) or your recovery room. You will stay there until you are awake and your pain is under control.

You will receive oxygen through a thin tube called a nasal cannula that rests below your nose. A nurse will be monitoring your body temperature, pulse, blood pressure, and oxygen levels.

After your stay in the PACU or your recovery room, you can go home with your caregiver.

Commonly asked questions

How do I care for my incision?

You and your caregiver should look at your incision(s) daily. Call your doctor if you see any redness or drainage from your incision(s).

Your incision(s) will be closed with sutures (stitches) under your skin. These sutures dissolve on their own, so they do not need to be removed.

  • If you go home with small pieces of surgical tape (Steri-StripsTM) on your incision(s), they will usually loosen and fall off by themselves. If not, your surgeon or nurse may remove them when they see you at your follow-up appointment. If they haven’t fallen off within 14 days, you may remove them.
  • If you go home with glue over your incision, it will also loosen and peel off, similarly to the Steri-Strips.

When can I shower?

You can shower 24 hours after your surgery. Taking a warm shower is relaxing and can help decrease discomfort.

When you are ready to shower, remove your bra and any gauze pads that are covering the incision(s). If you have Steri-Strips on your incision(s), do not remove them. Gently wash your incision(s) with soap and water, letting the shower water run over them. Pat the areas dry with a clean towel.

You can leave your incision(s) uncovered, unless you have drainage. If you have drainage, call your doctor’s office. If it feels more comfortable, you can place a clean gauze pad over your incision(s).

Do not take tub baths, swim, or use hot tubs or saunas until you discuss it with your doctor at the first appointment after your surgery. Also, speak with your doctor or nurse before you use deodorant, lotion, powder, or perfume anywhere near your surgery site.

Will I be able to eat?

You can resume eating when you go home after surgery. Eating a balanced diet high in protein will help you heal after surgery. Your diet should include a healthy protein source at each meal, as well as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. If you have questions about your diet, ask to see a dietitian.

Will I have pain when I am home?

The length of time each person has pain or discomfort varies. You will be given a prescription for pain medication before you go home. Follow the guidelines below to manage your pain.

  • Take your medication as directed and as needed.
  • Call your doctor if the pain medication prescribed for you doesn’t relieve your pain.
  • Do not drive or drink alcohol while you are taking prescription pain medication.
  • As your incision heals, you will have less pain and need less pain medication. A mild pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) will relieve aches and discomfort. However, large quantities of acetaminophen may be harmful to your liver. Do not take more acetaminophen than the amount directed on the bottle or as instructed by your doctor or nurse.
  • Pain medication should help you as you resume your normal activities. Pain medication is most effective 30 to 45 minutes after taking it.
  • Keep track of when you take your pain medication. Taking it when your pain first begins is more effective than waiting for the pain to get worse.

Pain medication may cause constipation (having fewer bowel movements than what is normal for you).

What is the Recovery Tracker?

We want to know how you’re feeling after you leave the hospital. To help us continue caring for you, we’ll send a group of questions to your MyMSK account every day for 10 days after you leave the hospital. These questions are known as your Recovery Tracker.

Fill out your Recovery Tracker every day before midnight (12:00 am). It only takes 2 to 3 minutes to complete. Your answers to these questions will help us understand how you’re feeling and what you need.

Based on your answers, we may reach out to you or ask you to call your surgeon’s office to give us more information. You can always contact your surgeon’s office if you have any questions. For more information, read the resource About Your Recovery Tracker .

How can I prevent constipation?

  • Go to the bathroom at the same time every day. Your body will get used to going at that time.
  • If you feel the urge to go, do not put it off. Try to use the bathroom 5 to 15 minutes after meals.
  • After breakfast is a good time to move your bowels because the reflexes in your colon are strongest then.
  • Exercise if you can; walking is an excellent form of exercise.
  • Drink 8 (8-ounce) glasses (2 liters) of liquids daily, if you can. Drink water, juices, soups, ice cream shakes, and other drinks that do not have caffeine. Beverages with caffeine, such as coffee and soda, pull fluid out of the body.
  • Slowly increase the fiber in your diet to 25 to 35 grams per day. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and cereals contain fiber. If you have an ostomy or have had recent bowel surgery, check with your doctor or nurse before making any changes in your diet.
  • Both over-the-counter and prescription medications are available to treat constipation. Start with 1 of the following over-the-counter medications first:
    • Docusate sodium (Colace®) 100 mg. This is a stool softener that causes few side effects. Do not take it with mineral oil.
    • Polyethylene glycol (MiraLAX®) 17 grams daily.
    • Senna (Senokot®) 2 tablets at bedtime. This is a stimulant laxative, which can cause cramping.
  • If you haven’t had a bowel movement in 2 days, call your doctor or nurse.

Is it normal to feel new sensations?

As you are healing, you may feel a several different sensations in your breast or arm. Tenderness, numbness, and twinges are common examples.

These sensations usually come and go, and will lessen over time, usually within the first few months after surgery. However, some may last months, even 5 years or longer. This is because the nerves are the slowest part of your body to heal. Most people report that the sensations are not severe or distressing.

As you continue to heal, you may feel scar tissue along your incision site. It will feel hard. This is common and will soften over the next several months.

Will I have a drain when I go home?

A drain will be placed only if you have an axillary lymph node dissection. The drain is a soft catheter that is inserted near the incision in your armpit to drain extra fluid. If you have a drain placed during your surgery, your nurse will give you additional information to help you take care of it at home.

When can I resume my normal routine?

You can resume most activities right away. It is best to pace yourself as you return to your daily routine.

Should I perform any exercises after surgery?

The scar tissue that forms around your surgical site can limit the range of motion of your arm and shoulder. Review the resource Exercises After Your Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy or Lumpectomy. It has exercises that you can do to help you regain motion in your arm and shoulder.

If you have had an axillary lymph node dissection, your nurse will give you additional information on what exercises to do.

Before starting strenuous exercises, such as running, jogging or lifting weights, speak with your surgeon.

When is it safe for me to drive?

You may resume driving after surgery as long as you are not taking prescription pain medication that may make you drowsy. You should also have full range of motion of your arm and be able to comfortably turn the steering wheel.

Am I at risk for lymphedema?

If you have had your axillary lymph nodes removed, the way fluid circulates in your arm may have changed. This means you are at risk for lymphedema. Lymphedema is an abnormal swelling that can occur in your arm, hand, breast, or torso on the side where your lymph nodes were removed.

Most women will not develop lymphedema, but some will. It’s difficult to determine the risk of developing lymphedema because:

  • There is no standard test for diagnosing lymphedema.
  • Disruption of lymph nodes affects people differently.
  • Lymphedema can develop soon after surgery, or years later.
  • Current cases of lymphedema can be caused by older treatment methods.

During a sentinel lymph node biopsy, between one and a few lymph nodes are removed to check for cancer. With a sentinel lymph node biopsy, studies show the risk of developing lymphedema is very low. Out of 100 people who have a sentinel lymph node biopsy, between 0 and 7 people will develop lymphedema.

During an axillary lymph node dissection, a wider incision is made and more lymph nodes are removed from the armpit. This is done to remove additional lymph nodes that may have cancer. The risk of getting lymphedema after this procedure is higher. Out of 100 people who have a axillary lymph node dissection, between 15 and 25 people will develop lymphedema.

How can I reduce my risk of developing lymphedema?

There is no way to know who will develop lymphedema, but there are things you can do to reduce your risk:

  • Try to maintain your normal weight, or safely work towards a more ideal body weight.
  • Exercise and stretch your muscles on a regular basis. When you resume exercise and activity, make sure to build up slowly and gradually. If you feel discomfort, stop and take a break. Talk with your surgeon, nurse, or physical therapist about which exercises are right for you.
  • Try to minimize your risk of infection to your hand and arm. Ask your doctor or nurse how best to care for cuts, scratches, and burns.

If you have had an axillary dissection, you will receive additional information in the resource called Hand and Arm Guidelines After Your Axillary Lymph Node Dissection.

What are the signs of lymphedema?

Some mild swelling after surgery is normal and will go away with time. You may also feel pain or other sensations, such as twinges and tingling, after surgery. These feelings are common and are not necessarily signs of lymphedema.

If you’re at risk of developing lymphedema, it’s a good idea to watch for signs of it developing. For example:

  • A feeling of heaviness or aching in your breast, arm, hand, or fingers.
  • The skin of your arm, hand, or breast feels tight.
  • Decreased flexibility in your arm, hand, or fingers.
  • Swelling or changes in your skin, such as tightness or pitting (skin that stays indented after being pressed).

If you have any signs of lymphedema, or you’re not sure, it’s important you talk with your doctor or nurse so that a correct diagnosis can be made.

When can I resume sexual activity?

You can resume sexual activity when you feel ready. Having sexual relations will not harm your surgical area.

It may be helpful to let your partner see your incision soon after surgery. This may decrease any anxiety you both may feel. Your partner might worry that touching the incision(s) will hurt you. Let your partner know what is and is not comfortable. Avoid putting pressure on the surgical site in the first weeks after surgery. Try placing a small pillow or towel over the surgical area. If you have any questions, talk to your nurse.

You may have concerns about the effects of cancer and your treatment on how you look or on your sexuality. Our Female Sexual Medicine and Women’s Health Program is available to help you. For more information or to make an appointment, call 646-888-5076.

If there is any chance you can become pregnant, be sure to use contraception (birth control). However, you cannot use any form of hormonal birth control. Instead, use a male condom or a diaphragm each time you have sex. You can also have your gynecologist place a Copper T intrauterine device (IUD) in your uterus. This type of IUD can be kept in place for a long as 10 years, or it can be removed earlier.

Continue to use birth control throughout your treatment and until your doctor tells you it is safe to attempt pregnancy. Additional information can be found in the resource Sex and Your Cancer Treatment.

How can I cope with my feelings?

After surgery for a serious illness, you may have new and upsetting feelings. Many people say they felt weepy, sad, worried, nervous, irritable, and angry at one time or another. You may find that you cannot control some of these feelings. If this happens, it’s a good idea to seek emotional support.

The first step in coping is to talk about how you feel. Family and friends can help. Your nurse, doctor, and social worker can reassure, support, and guide you. It is always a good idea to let these professionals know how you, your family, and your friends are feeling emotionally. Many resources are available to patients and their families. Whether you are in the hospital or at home, the nurses, doctors, and social workers are here to help you and your family and friends handle the emotional aspects of your illness.

Please see the “Resources” section of this guide for a list of additional support services.

How long until I have the pathology results?

The pathology report usually takes to 7 to 10 business days.

When is my first appointment after my surgery?

Your follow-up appointment will be 1 to 2 weeks after your surgery.

What if I have other questions?

If you have any questions or concerns, please talk with your doctor or nurse. You can reach them Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

After 5:00 pm, during the weekend, and on holidays, please call (212) 639-2000 and ask for the doctor on call.

When to contact your healthcare provider

Contact your healthcare provider if you have:

  • A temperature of 101° F (38.3° C) or higher
  • Shortness of breath
  • Warmer than normal skin around your incision
  • Increased discomfort in your surgical area
  • Increased redness around your incision
  • New or increased swelling around your incision
  • Discharge from your incision
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Support Services

This section contains a list of support services that may help you get ready for your surgery and recover safely.

Write down your questions and be sure to ask your healthcare provider.

MSK support services

Admitting Office
Call if you have questions about your hospital admission, including requesting a private room.

Call if you have questions about anesthesia.

Blood Donor Room
Call for more information if you’re interested in donating blood or platelets.

Bobst International Center
MSK welcomes patients from around the world. If you’re an international patient, call for help arranging your care.

Chaplaincy Service
At MSK, our chaplains are available to listen, help support family members, pray, contact community clergy or faith groups, or simply be a comforting companion and a spiritual presence. Anyone can request spiritual support, regardless of formal religious affiliation. The interfaith chapel is located near the main lobby of Memorial Hospital and is open 24 hours a day. If you have an emergency, please call the hospital operator and ask for the chaplain on call.

Counseling Center
Many people find that counseling helps them. We provide counseling for individuals, couples, families, and groups, as well as medications to help if you feel anxious or depressed. To make an appointment, ask your healthcare provider for a referral or call the number above.

Food Pantry Program
The food pantry program provides food to people in need during their cancer treatment. For more information, talk with your healthcare provider or call the number above.

Integrative Medicine Service
Integrative Medicine Service offers many services to complement (go along with) traditional medical care, including music therapy, mind/body therapies, dance and movement therapy, yoga, and touch therapy.

MSK Library
You can visit our library website or speak with the library reference staff to find more information about your specific cancer type. You can also visit LibGuides on MSK’s library website at libguides.mskcc.org.

Patient and Caregiver Education
Visit the Patient and Caregiver Education website to search our virtual library. There you can find written educational resources, videos, and online programs.

Patient and Caregiver Peer Support Program
You may find it comforting to speak with someone who has been through a treatment similar to yours. You can talk with a former MSK patient or caregiver through our Patient and Caregiver Peer Support Program. These conversations are confidential. They may take place in person or over the phone.

Patient Billing
Call if you have questions about preauthorization with your insurance company. This is also called preapproval.

Patient Representative Office
Call if you have questions about the Health Care Proxy form or if you have concerns about your care.

Perioperative Nurse Liaison
Call if you have questions about MSK releasing any information while you’re having surgery.

Private Duty Nursing Office
You may request private nurses or companions. Call for more information.

Resources for Life After Cancer (RLAC) Program
At MSK, care doesn’t end after active treatment. The RLAC Program is for patients and their families who have finished treatment. This program has many services, including seminars, workshops, support groups, counseling on life after treatment, and help with insurance and employment issues.

Sexual Health Programs
Cancer and cancer treatments can have an impact on your sexual health. MSK’s Sexual Health Programs can help you take action and address sexual health issues before, during, or after your treatment.

  • Our Female Sexual Medicine and Women’s Health Program helps women who are dealing with cancer-related sexual health challenges, including premature menopause and fertility issues. For more information, or to make an appointment, call 646-888-5076.
  • Our Male Sexual and Reproductive Medicine Program helps men who are dealing with cancer-related sexual health challenges, including erectile dysfunction. For more information, or to make an appointment, call 646-888-6024.

Social Work
Social workers help patients, family, and friends deal with issues that are common for cancer patients. They provide individual counseling and support groups throughout the course of treatment, and can help you communicate with children and other family members. Our social workers can also help refer you to community agencies and programs, as well as financial resources if you’re eligible.

Tobacco Treatment Program
If you want to quit smoking, MSK has specialists who can help. Call for more information.

Virtual Programs
MSK’s Virtual Programs offer online education and support for patients and caregivers, even when you can’t come to MSK in person. Through live, interactive sessions, you can learn about your diagnosis, what to expect during treatment, and how to prepare for the various stages of your cancer care. Sessions are confidential, free, and led by expert clinical staff. If you’re interested in joining a Virtual Program, visit our website at www.mskcc.org/vp for more information.

For more online information, visit the Cancer Types section of www.mskcc.org.

External support services

In New York City, the MTA offers a shared ride, door-to-door service for people with disabilities who can’t take the public bus or subway.

Air Charity Network
Provides travel to treatment centers.

American Cancer Society (ACS)
800-ACS-2345 (800-227-2345)
Offers a variety of information and services, including Hope Lodge, a free place for patients and caregivers to stay during cancer treatment.

Cancer and Careers
A resource for education, tools, and events for employees with cancer.

275 Seventh Avenue (Between West 25th & 26th Streets)
New York, NY 10001
Provides counseling, support groups, educational workshops, publications, and financial assistance.

Cancer Support Community
Provides support and education to people affected by cancer.

Caregiver Action Network
Provides education and support for people who care for loved ones with a chronic illness or disability.

Corporate Angel Network
Offers free travel to treatment across the country using empty seats on corporate jets.

Gilda’s Club
A place where men, women, and children living with cancer find social and emotional support through networking, workshops, lectures, and social activities.

Good Days
Offers financial assistance to pay for copayments during treatment. Patients must have medical insurance, meet the income criteria, and be prescribed medication that’s part of the Good Days formulary.

Healthwell Foundation
Provides financial assistance to cover copayments, health care premiums, and deductibles for certain medications and therapies.

Joe’s House
Provides a list of places to stay near treatment centers for people with cancer and their families.

LGBT Cancer Project
Provides support and advocacy for the LGBT community, including online support groups and a database of LGBT-friendly clinical trials.

Provides reproductive information and support to cancer patients and survivors whose medical treatments have risks associated with infertility.

Look Good Feel Better Program
800-395-LOOK (800-395-5665)
This program offers workshops to learn things you can do to help you feel better about your appearance. For more information or to sign up for a workshop, call the number above or visit the program’s website.

National Cancer Institute
800-4-CANCER (800-422-6237)

National Cancer Legal Services Network
Free cancer legal advocacy program.

National LGBT Cancer Network
Provides education, training, and advocacy for LGBT cancer survivors and those at risk.

Needy Meds
Lists Patient Assistance Programs for brand and generic name medications.

Provides prescription benefits to eligible employees and retirees of public sector employers in New York State.

Partnership for Prescription Assistance
Helps qualifying patients without prescription drug coverage get free or low-cost medications.

Patient Access Network Foundation
Provides assistance with copayments for patients with insurance.

Patient Advocate Foundation
Provides access to care, financial assistance, insurance assistance, job retention assistance, and access to the national underinsured resource directory.

Provides assistance to help people get medications that they have trouble affording.

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Educational Resources

This section contains the educational resources that were referred to throughout this guide. These resources will help you get ready for your surgery and recover safely after surgery.

Write down your questions and be sure to ask your healthcare provider.

For more information about lymphedema, you can also read the New York State Department of Health’s resource Understanding Lymphedema.

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