This guide will help you prepare for your breast surgical excision, biopsy, or lumpectomy 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.Back to top
About Your Surgery
You are having surgery to examine a suspicious breast lesion (a lump) or to treat breast cancer. You may be having a:
- Surgical excision (removal)
- Another similar surgery
A surgical excision removes a lesion that is at a high risk of being cancer. This lesion is then tested to see if it is cancer. Not all lesions are cancerous—some are benign (not cancerous).
A 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.
During your surgery
Your surgeon will make an incision (a surgical cut) in your breast and remove the lesion, along with a small area of normal tissue around it. They will then close the incision with sutures (stitches), trying to keep the breast looking much like it did before surgery.Back to top
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 for your 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 aspirin, heparin, warfarin (Coumadin®), clopidogrel (Plavix®), enoxaparin (Lovenox®), dabigatran (Pradaxa®), apixaban (Eliquis®), and rivaroxaban (Xarelto®). 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 (medication to make you sleep during surgery) 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.
About drinking alcohol
The amount of alcohol you drink can affect you during and after your surgery. It’s 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’re 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 can’t 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 can’t stop drinking.
- Ask us any questions you have about drinking and surgery. As always, all of your medical information will be kept confidential.
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 of time while sleeping. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). With OSA, 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 (such as a 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 (NP) who works closely with anesthesiology staff (doctors and specialized nurses who will give you medication to put you to sleep during your surgery). Your NP will review your medical and surgical history with you. You will have tests, including an electrocardiogram (EKG) to check your heart rhythm, a chest x-ray, blood tests, and any other tests necessary to plan your care. Your NP may also recommend you see other healthcare providers.
Your NP will talk with you about which medications you should take the morning of your surgery.
It’s very helpful if you bring the following with you to your PST appointment:
- A list of all the medications you’re taking, including patches and creams.
- 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’re unable to communicate for yourself. The person you identify is called your health care agent.
If you’re 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. You and your caregiver will learn about your surgery 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 okay 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 (1.6 kilometers), swimming, or biking. If it’s cold outside, use stairs in your home or go to a mall or shopping market. Exercising will help your body get into its best condition for your surgery and make your recovery faster and easier.
Eat a healthy diet
You should 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. The clerk will tell you what time you should arrive at the hospital for your surgery. If you’re scheduled for surgery on a Monday, you will be called on the Friday before. If you don’t receive a call by 7:00 pm, please call 212-639-5014.
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.
- Use your normal shampoo to wash your hair. Rinse your head well.
- Use your normal soap to wash your face and genital area. Rinse your body well with warm water.
- Open the 4% CHG solution bottle. Pour some into your hand or a clean washcloth.
- 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.
- Move back into the shower stream to rinse off the 4% CHG solution. Use warm water.
- Dry yourself off with a clean towel after your shower.
- 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 NP instructed you to take certain medications the morning of your surgery, take only those medications with a 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, makeup, powder, perfume, or cologne.
- 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’re taken into the operating room, you will need to remove your hearing aids, dentures, prosthetic device(s), wig, and religious articles.
- If you wear contact lenses, wear your glasses instead.
What to bring
- A button-down or loose fitting shirt.
- 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.
- Your Health Care Proxy Form, if you have completed one.
- A case for your personal items, such as eyeglasses, hearing aid(s), dentures, prosthetic device(s), wig, and religious articles, if you have it.
- 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’s 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 surgery. Tell your nurse the dose of any medications (including patches and creams) you took after midnight and the time you took them.
Your nurse may place an intravenous (IV) line into one of your veins, usually in your arm or hand. If your nurse doesn’t place the IV, your anesthesiologist will do it later once you’re in the operating room.
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 surgery you’re 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 walk into the operating room or you can 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.Back to top
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 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 incisions?
You and your caregiver should look at your incision daily. Call your doctor if you see any redness or drainage from your incision.
Your incision 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 Steri-Strips™ on your incision, they will loosen and fall off by themselves. If they haven’t fallen off within 14 days, you may remove them.
- If you go home with glue over your sutures (stitches), it will also loosen and peel off, similarly to the Steri-Strips.
Is it normal to feel new sensations?
As you are healing, you may feel a several different sensations in your breast. 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.
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.
Can I shower?
You can shower 24 hours after your surgery. Taking a warm shower is relaxing and can help decrease discomfort. Use soap when you shower and gently wash your incision. Pat the areas dry with a towel after showering, and leave your incision uncovered, unless you have drainage from your incision. If you have drainage, call your doctor’s office.
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.
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).
How can I prevent constipation?
Talk with your healthcare provider about how to prevent and manage constipation. You can also follow the guidelines below.
- Go to the bathroom at the same time every day. Your body will get used to going at that time. But, if you feel like you need to go, don’t put it off.
- Try to use the bathroom 5 to 15 minutes after meals. After breakfast is a good time to go. The reflexes in your colon are strongest at this time.
- Exercise, if you can. Walking is an excellent form of exercise.
- Drink 8 (8-ounce) glasses (2 liters) of liquids daily, if you can.
- Choose liquids such as water, juices (such as prune juice), soups, and ice cream shakes.
- Avoid liquids with caffeine (such as coffee and soda). Caffeine can pull fluid out of your body.
- Slowly increase the fiber in your diet to 25 to 35 grams per day. If you have an ostomy or have had recent bowel surgery, check with your healthcare provider before making any changes in your diet. Foods high in fiber include:
- Whole-grain cereals and breads
- Unpeeled fruits and vegetables
- Mixed green salads
- Apricots, figs, and raisins
- Both over-the-counter and prescription medications are available to treat constipation. Check with your healthcare provider before taking any medications for constipation, especially if you have an ostomy or have had bowel surgery. Follow the instructions on the label or from your healthcare provider. Examples of over-the-counter medications for constipation include:
- Docusate sodium (Colace®). This is a stool softener (medication that makes your bowel movements softer) that causes few side effects. You can use it to help prevent constipation. Don’t take it with mineral oil.
- Polyethylene glycol (MiraLAX®). This is a laxative (medication that causes bowel movements) that causes few side effects. Take it with 8 ounces (1 cup) of a liquid. Only take it if you’re already constipated.
- Senna (Senokot®). This is a stimulant laxative, which can cause cramping. It’s best to take it at bedtime. Only take it if you’re already constipated.
- Call your healthcare provider if you haven’t had a bowel movement in 2 days.
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.
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, and you have your full range of motion.
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?
You will be given a follow-up appointment 1 to 2 weeks after your surgery.
How can I cope with my feelings?
After surgery for a serious illness, you may have new and upsetting feelings. Many patients say they felt sad, worried, nervous, irritable, or 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, we are here to help you and your family and friends handle the emotional aspects of your illness.
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 the area
- Increased redness around your incision
- New or increased swelling around your incision
- Discharge from your incision
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
American Cancer Society (ACS)
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.
A place where men, women, and children living with cancer find social and emotional support through networking, workshops, lectures, and social activities.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
Patient Advocate Foundation
Provides access to care, financial assistance, insurance assistance, job retention assistance, and access to the national underinsured resource directory.
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.
- Common Medications Containing Aspirin, Other Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), or Vitamin E
- Herbal Remedies and Cancer Treatment