Your Breast Surgery: FAQ

Get answers to some of the most common questions about your surgery so you can prepare in the days and weeks beforehand, know what to expect on the day of, and recover as quickly as possible afterwards. If you still have questions, contact us at (212) 305-9676.

Preparing for Surgery | Your Surgery | After Surgery | Home Care

Preparing for Surgery

  1. What tests may be done prior to surgery?

    Your surgeon may order blood tests, an electrocardiogram, and/or a chest x-ray in the days or weeks prior to your surgery. In addition, your doctor or nurse practitioner/physicians assistant will perform a physical examination to check your baseline health. You may also meet with the anesthesiologist. This is a good time to ask any questions relating to your surgery.

  2. Can I eat or drink?

    You should not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your surgery. If you eat or drink anything after midnight, your surgery may be cancelled. This is to prevent any food or liquid from going down your windpipe and into your lungs while you’re under anesthesia.

  3. What medications can I take?

    You should inform your doctor of any medications you are taking. You may be told to stop taking them before surgery. All aspirin-like drugs should be discontinued for 10 days prior to surgery. High doses of vitamin E, C, and Ginkgo biloba should also be avoided. All of these can interfere with blood clotting during surgery.

    You should bring all your medications with you to your surgery. You should also make a list of all their names and how often you take them.

Your Surgery

  1. When should I arrive at the hospital?

    You will receive a telephone call from the hospital the day before your surgery. (If your surgery is scheduled for Monday, you will receive your call on Friday.) You will be asked to arrive two hours prior to your scheduled surgery.

    • If you do not hear from the New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center representative by 4 p.m., call (212) 305-0973
    • If you do not hear from the New York Presbyterian/Lawrence Hospital representative by 6 p.m., call (914) 787-4100
  2. What should I bring with me to the hospital?

    Bring only essential items, such as the following:

    • Eyeglasses
    • Dentures
    • Hearing aids
    • Contact lens case
    • Loose shirt that buttons in the front to wear home

    Do not bring jewelry, money, or anything of value.

  3. What should I do before coming to the hospital?

    • Shower, shampoo, and brush your teeth as usual. Rinse, but do not swallow the water.
    • Remove all jewelry.
    • Remove red or frosted nail polish. Clear or neutral colors are allowed.
    • Remove contact lenses (You can wear your glasses, but you will be asked to remove them before surgery.)
    • Do not eat or drink anything unless otherwise instructed by your doctor or nurse.
    • Do not smoke.
    • Bring all medications with you. Write down all their names and how often you take them.
  4. Where is parking located?

    • Parking for New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center is located at 165th Street and Ft. Washington Ave. See a map.
    • Parking for the New York Presbyterian/Lawrence Hospital is at 55 Palmer Avenue, Bronxville, NY 10708. See a map.
  5. What is the check-in procedure?

    Please arrive on time and report to where your pre-operative phone call directed you.

    You will be escorted to the surgical waiting area, where we will provide you with a locker for your clothes. We will also give you a hospital gown, bathrobe, and slippers to change in to. You can relax in this comfortable room with one or two family members.

    A nurse will place a hospital ID band on your wrist and take some preliminary measurements, such as your temperature. They will review the surgical plan with you, then ask you to verify the procedure and confirm the correct side. The surgery site will be marked as needed. You will also speak briefly with the surgeon and the anesthesiologist. 

    Finally, an intravenous (IV) line will be started in a vein in your arm. This allows the medical staff to deliver fluid and medication directly into your bloodstream. The IV will remain during surgery and for a while after surgery.

  6. What happens after I’m called into the OR?

    You will be asked to remove any dentures, eyeglasses, and wigs. Your family will move to the family waiting area at this time. 

    You will then be escorted to the OR, where you will meet the surgical team. You’ll be connected to a heart monitor, your blood pressure will be taken, and a small clip will be placed on your finger to measure your blood oxygen level.

  7. What type of anesthesia will I receive?

    The type of anesthesia you receive will depend on the type of surgery you are having and your personal preferences.

    • Local Anesthesia: The operative area is numbed so that you will not feel pain. This is commonly used for lumpectomy, wide excision, segmental resection. Local anesthesia is often accompanied by a sedative to reduce anxiety.
    • General Anesthesia: You will sleep deeply during the surgery and there may be a breathing tube placed in your throat.

    You will be monitored by an anesthesiologist at all times.

  8. What will happen during my surgical procedure?

    To learn more about the different types of surgical procedures we offer, see the following articles:

After Surgery

  1. Where will I wake up?

    After surgery, you will be taken to the recovery room (PACU), where you will be observed while you recover from the anesthesia. We will notify your family members that your surgery is over.

    If you are going home on the day of your surgery, you will be transferred to the Ambulatory Recovery Room. Family members can visit you there and discharge instructions will be given to you before you are sent home. All Ambulatory Patients are required to have an adult escort to take them home.

    If you are staying overnight, you will be taken to one of the hospital units. Your family can visit you in your hospital room.

  2. What if I have pain?

    You will be assessed for pain by the nursing staff. You will be asked to describe your pain on a scale of 1 to 10. Pain medication will be prescribed to you by your doctor.

    You may find that Extra Strength Tylenol® is all you need to relieve pain or discomfort. However, there are several different pain medications available. You will receive a medication and regimen that works for you.

  3. What is patient-controlled analgesia (PCA)?

    This is a pump used to administer pain medication. When you feel pain, you press a button on the pump and pain medication is delivered to you through an IV line. The PCA pump is set so that you cannot give yourself too much pain medication.

  4. When will I be able to eat?

    When the effects of anesthesia have worn off, you will be given clear liquids to drink. You will be able to eat your regular diet soon after you are able to tolerate clear liquids.

  5. When will I be able to go home?

    Medical staff will monitor your health directly after your surgery to determine when you are healthy enough to go home. 

  6. When will I see my surgeon after the operation?

    You will be given an appointment to see your surgeon about one week after surgery. Sutures and/or drains may be removed at this time.

  7. When will the pathology report be ready?

    A pathology report is a document that gives detailed information about your disease. It will include the nature of the cells that were identified and removed during your biopsy or surgery, whether or not they are cancerous, and (if applicable) the stage of the cancer.

    Your pathology report will generally be ready about one week from the date of your surgery. Your surgeon will discuss the results with you in detail, usually at the post-operative visit.

  8. When can I shower?

    Your surgeon will let you know when you may shower or bathe. If you have drains in place, you may have to wait to shower until after they are removed, or according to your doctor's instructions. Ask your surgeon about using deodorant and shaving under your arm.

  9. When can I drive?

    How soon you can start driving depends on the type of breast surgery your received. Ask your surgeon when it is okay for you to drive.

  10. When can I return to work?

    You may return to work as soon as you feel strong enough. At first, working fewer hours in a day or fewer days in a week may help you to ease back into a full-time schedule.

  11. When can I resume sexual relations?

    Resume sexual relations as soon as you feel physically and emotionally ready.

Home Care

  1. How do I care for the incisions?

    Your incision will be closed with stitches. Small adhesive strips (Steri-Strips) may also be placed over the incision line. Gauze dressings will cover your incisions to provide some padding. Your surgeon will explain how to care for the incision and the dressings.

    Do not shower until your surgeon tells you to do so. You may be told to wait to shower until after drainage tubes have been removed (see Drainage Tubes).

    You may be wearing a supportive bra that closes in the front or you may have a binder wrapped around your chest to help keep the dressing in place. If you have one of these supports, continue to wear it until your surgeon says you may remove it.

    Some stitches are invisible and will dissolve over time. Others will be removed when you see your surgeon at the one-week-post-operative visit. If Steri-Strips have been placed over the incision, do not remove them. They will fall off by themselves, usually when you shower.

  2. Will I have drainage tubes?

    A drainage tube may be placed under your arm if underarm lymph nodes were removed as part of your surgery or if you had breast reconstruction. If you have had breast reconstruction using tissue from your stomach area (called a TRAM flap), you will also have drains placed in the stomach area. The purpose of these tubes is to assist in the healing process by draining away fluid that collects in the area of surgery.

    Tubes are held in place with sutures. General body movement can sometimes cause discomfort. To reduce this, remember to keep the collection container pinned to your clothing to prevent it from pulling on the tubing.

    Caring for these tubes at home is simple and quite safe. It may involve draining the tube and measuring the fluid. Before you leave the hospital, your doctor or nurse will provide detailed instructions depending on the type of drain used.

    The drainage tubes will stay in place until your surgeon decides they are ready to be removed. This will usually be between six days and three weeks.

  3. Should I avoid any activities?

    It is normal for you to tire easily while your body is healing. Be sure to include frequent rest periods each day during the first few weeks. Eat a well-balanced diet and drink plenty of fluids. You should also take short walks to stimulate circulation and relieve stress.

    Use your affected arm as normally as possible in your daily activities without causing discomfort. Do not do any heavy lifting or strenuous activity for two weeks or longer, depending on the type of surgery you’ve had. Avoid activities that involve reaching or stretching with your affected arm (such as vacuuming or scrubbing) for several weeks until your incisions have fully healed.

    Be kind to yourself! Do things that give you satisfaction and avoid activities that are physically and emotionally draining. Resume your social, household, and work activities gradually. You will soon be feeling better and stronger.

  4. What kind of exercises can I do to aid recovery?

    Regular exercise is a great way to not only recover from breast surgery, but also reduce the risk of breast cancer recurring. However, you should start slowly after surgery so that your body has enough time to heal. If you have drains or stitches, you may need to wait until they are removed before beginning an exercise routine. Talk with your surgeon or doctor to get their OK to start.

    That said, the American Cancer Society recommends some basic exercises you can do to aid recovery in the week after surgery:

    • Use the arm on the same side as your surgery like you normally would when you bathe, get dressed, comb your hair, and eat.
    • Lie down and raise your affected arm so it’s above the level of your heart for 45 minutes. Repeat 2 or 3 times a day. Do this by putting your arm on pillows so that your hand is higher than your wrist and your elbow is a little higher than your shoulder. This will help decrease the swelling that may happen after surgery.
    • While raising your affected arm above the level of your heart, open and close your hand 15 to 25 times, then bend and straighten your elbow. Repeat 3 to 4 times a day. This helps reduce swelling by pumping lymph fluid out of your arm.
    • Practice deep breathing exercises using your diaphragm at least 6 times a day. Lie on your back and take a slow, deep breath. Breathe in as much air as you can while expanding your chest and abdomen (push your belly button away from your spine). Relax and breathe out. Repeat this 4 or 5 times. This will help maintain normal movement of your chest, making it easier for your lungs to work.
  5. When should I call the doctor?

    Although a small amount of swelling is normal in the month after surgery, call the doctor if you begin to experience substantial swelling near the incision or on your arm or hand. Also call the doctor if you develop a fever of over 100.4 F.

    You should report any of the following conditions as well:

    • Frequent headaches
    • Shortness of breath
    • Unusual and prolonged digestive problems
    • Vomiting
    • Blurry vision
    • Dizziness and confusion
    • Abnormal menstruation

Have more questions? Call us at (212) 305-9676 or contact us through our online request form.