About Your Surgery
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.
You are having surgery to examine a suspicious breast lesion (a lump) or to treat breast cancer. You are having:
- Surgical excision (removal)
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.
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 prepare for your surgery. Read through this section when your surgery is scheduled and refer to it as your surgery date gets closer. It contains important information about what you need to do before your surgery. Write down any questions you have and be sure to ask your doctor or nurse.
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.
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.
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.
Stop Taking Vitamin E
If you take vitamin E, stop taking it 10 days before your surgery because it can cause bleeding. For more information, read Common Medications Containing Aspirin and Other Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs).
Purchase Hibiclens® Skin Cleanser
Hibiclens is a skin cleanser that kills germs for 24 hours after using it (see Figure 1). Showering with Hibiclens before your surgery will help lower your risk of infection after surgery. You can buy Hibiclens at your local pharmacy without a prescription.
Stop Taking Certain Medications
If you take aspirin, ask your surgeon if you should continue. Aspirin and medications that contain aspirin can cause bleeding. For more information, read Common Medications Containing Aspirin and Other Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs).
Stop Taking Herbal Remedies and Supplements
Stop taking herbal remedies or supplements 7 days before your surgery. If you take a multivitamin, talk with your doctor or nurse about whether you should continue. For more information, read Herbal Remedies and Cancer Treatment.
Stop Taking Certain Medications
Stop taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®), and naproxen (Aleve®) 2 days before your surgery. These medications can cause bleeding. For more information, read Common Medications Containing Aspirin and Other Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs).
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 Hibiclens
The night before your surgery, shower using Hibiclens. To use Hibiclens, open the bottle and pour some solution into your hand or a washcloth. Move away from the shower stream to avoid rinsing off the Hibiclens too soon. Rub it gently over your body from your neck to your waist and rinse.
Don’t let the solution get into your eyes, ears, mouth, or genital area. Don’t use any other soap. Dry yourself off with a clean towel after your shower.
Go to bed early and get a full night’s sleep.
- Do not eat anything after midnight the night before your surgery. This includes hard candy and gum.
- Between midnight and up until 2 hours before your scheduled arrival time, you may drink a total of 12 ounces of water (see figure).
- Starting 2 hours before your scheduled arrival time, do not eat or drink anything. This includes water.
Shower With Hibiclens
Shower using Hibiclens just before you leave for the hospital. Use the Hibiclens the same way you did the night before.
Don’t use any other soap. Don’t put on any lotion, cream, powder, deodorant, makeup, or perfume after your shower.
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.
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
Once your nurse has seen you, 1 or 2 visitors can keep you company as you wait for your surgery to begin. When it is time for your surgery, your visitor(s) will be shown to the waiting area.
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 stay and after you leave. You will learn how to safely recover from your surgery. Write down any questions you have and be sure to ask your doctor or nurse.
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.
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-StripsTM 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?
- 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. Take _____ capsules _____ times a day. 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.
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.
- 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
Call with any questions about anesthesia.
Blood Donor Room
Call for more information if you are interested in donating blood or platelets.
Bobst International Center
MSK welcomes patients from around the world. If you are 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.
Integrative Medicine Service
Integrative Medicine Service offers patients many services to complement traditional medical care, including music therapy, mind/body therapies, dance and movement therapy, yoga, and touch therapy.
Patient-to-Patient Support Program
You may find it comforting to speak with a cancer survivor or caregiver who has been through a similar treatment. Through our Patient-to-Patient Support Program, we are able to offer you a chance to speak with former patients and caregivers.
Call Patient Billing with any questions regarding preauthorization with your insurance company. This is also called preapproval.
Patient Representative Office
Call if you have any questions about the Health Care Proxy Form or if you have any concerns about your care.
Perioperative Nurse Liaison
Call if you have any questions about MSK releasing any information while you are having surgery.
Private Duty Nursing Office
Patients 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.
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 referring 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.
For additional online information, visit LIBGUIDES on MSK’s library website at http://library.mskcc.org or the breast cancer sectoin of mskcc.org. You can also contact the library reference staff at 212-639-7439 for help.Back to top
In New York City, the MTA offers a shared ride, door-to-door service for people with disabilities who are unable to take the public bus or subway.
Cancer and Careers
A comprehensive resource for education, tools, and events for employees with cancer.
275 Seventh Avenue (Between 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 is part of the Good Days formulary.
LGBT Cancer Project
Provides support and advocacy for the LGBT community, including a online support groups and a database of LGBT friendly clinical trials.
National Cancer Institute
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.
- Common Medications Containing Aspirin and Other Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
- Herbal Remedies and Cancer Treatment