Checklist: Mastectomy Without Reconstruction or With Reconstruction Using a Tissue Expander

This information outlines what to do and expect before and after your mastectomy without reconstruction or mastectomy with reconstruction using a tissue expander.

Follow your care team’s instructions while you’re getting ready for and recovering from surgery.

Read the resource About Your Mastectomy or About Your Mastectomy for Men. A member of your care team will give you a copy. You can also find them online.

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Getting Ready for Your Surgery

What to do

  • Set up a My MSK account if you haven’t already. Visit for instructions.
  • Buy a 4% chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG) solution antiseptic skin cleanser, such as Hibiclens®.
  • Complete a Health Care Proxy form.
  • Identify your caregiver.
  • Arrange for someone to take you home after surgery.
  • Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for taking medications.

Presurgical Testing (PST) appointment

  • Bring a list of all the prescription and over-the-counter medications you take.
  • Bring any medical notes or test results you feel are important (if your MSK healthcare provider doesn’t already have them).
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1 Day Before Your Surgery

A staff member will call you between 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. They’ll tell you what time to arrive for your surgery. If your surgery is on Monday, they’ll call you on the Friday before. If you don’t get a call by 7:00 pm, call 212-639-5014.

Eating and drinking

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

Taking your medications

  • Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions.


  • Shower in the evening.
    • Wash your hair, face, and genital area as usual.
    • Wash from your neck to your feet with 4% CHG solution. Avoid your head and genital area.
    • Dry yourself off with a clean towel. Don’t put on any lotion, cream, deodorant, makeup, powder, perfume, or cologne.
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The Day of Your Surgery

Eating and drinking

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

Taking your medications

  • Take only the medications your healthcare provider told you to take. Take them with a small sip of water.


  • Shower before your surgery. Follow the same steps you did the night before.

Things to remember

  • If you use contact lenses, wear glasses instead.
  • Remove any metal objects and jewelry, including body piercings.
  • Leave valuable items at home.
  • Wear a button-down or loose-fitting top and flat, safe shoes for walking.
  • Bring your Health Care Proxy form, if you have one.
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After Your Surgery

Learning to care for yourself at home

  • Meet with your nurse to review:
    • How to manage your pain at home
    • How to take care of your drain(s) at home
    • How to shower at home
    • When you’ll be able to drive
  • Review arm exercises to do at home.

Getting ready for discharge

  • Make sure you have a responsible care partner to take you home.
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At Home

Remember to follow your care team’s instructions while you’re recovering from your surgery.

Taking your medications

  • Take your medication as directed and as needed.
  • Don’t drive or drink alcohol while you’re taking prescription pain medication.

Caring for your drain(s)

  • Empty your drain(s) in the morning and evening. Milk the tubing each time. Follow the instructions in the resource Caring for Your Jackson-Pratt Drain.
  • If you didn’t have reconstruction, follow your breast surgeon’s instructions for when to call their office to schedule your drain removal.
  • If you had reconstruction, follow your plastic surgeon’s instructions for when to call their office to schedule your drain removal.


  • If you didn’t have reconstruction, shower 24 hours after your surgery.
  • If you had reconstruction, follow your plastic surgeon’s instructions.

Exercise and physical activity

  • Do your arm exercises 5 times every day until you can move your arm like you did before surgery. After that, do them once every day.
  • If you had reconstruction, don’t lift objects heavier than 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms) until your healthcare provider tells you it’s safe.

Sexual activity

  • You can start sexual activity when you feel ready.
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When to Call Your Healthcare Provider

Call your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever of 101 °F (38.3 °C) or higher
  • The skin around your incision(s) is redder or warmer than usual
  • You have increased discomfort in the area of your surgery
  • There’s drainage from your incision(s)
  • Your arm or the area around your incision(s) is starting to swell or getting more swollen
  • You have trouble breathing
  • You have any questions or concerns
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