Life after breast cancer surgery

It can take some time to adjust to a new body shape after breast cancer surgery. The swelling and bruising will go down and the scars from your operation will become less obvious.

You'll get used to your new body shape and false breast shape (prosthesis) if you wear one. You're likely to find that your confidence will gradually come back. 

The emotional ups and downs might last longer. You may find anxieties coming back when you go for a check up. Or new situations, such as being with a new partner, might bring up more insecurities.

Get care and support from others in whichever way is best for you.

Your feelings after breast surgery

The first few months after surgery can be very upsetting. You might have intense feelings including:

  • grief
  • fear
  • shock
  • anger

Your self confidence might also be affected.

People react very differently to surgery. Most women need time to come to terms with changes to their breast. Give yourself time to adjust. 

Talking to people who have had similar experiences can help. Ask your breast care nurse about local support groups or good online support groups. You can contact Cancer Research UK's online forum called Cancer Chat.

How you will look after breast cancer surgery

Women find different ways of dealing with the changes to their bodies. You might prefer to see the results of the surgery for the first time when you are alone. Or you might want someone to be with you when you take your first look.

Your surgeon will do all they can to make sure your scars are as discreet as possible. They will fade with time.

It can be hard to accept changes in your looks that you are not happy with.

You might be worried about how your children will see you and how it might affect them. It is normal to worry about these things. But the people closest to you won't see you any differently as a person.

There are several things that might help you to cope with changes in the way your breasts look.

Finding out what to expect

Talk through your treatment with your surgeon and breast care nurse before your operation. It can help you deal with things later on. If you let your surgeon know that you want to have the complete picture, they will be honest with you.

You are likely to be very swollen and sore just after surgery but this won't last too long.

Talking to people who have had similar surgery

Some people find it reassuring to talk to people who have had similar experiences but it isn't helpful for everyone. Your surgeon or breast care nurse might be able to put you in touch with someone who has had a similar operation. 

Looking in the mirror

It's usually best to wait until a day or two after your operation before you first look in a mirror.

You might want to have someone with you when you first look at your scars. Your first view might be a shock. You might see stitches and the area might be bruised or swollen. So it might be best if you have someone there to support you.

The hospital staff will be very aware of your feelings and will do everything they can to reassure and help you.

Talking to people close to you

The best source of support for most of us is family and friends. You might feel worried about upsetting them. But it can help to share your feelings and the people close to you will want to support you.

Try and let your partner know if you're having problems with your intimate relationships after the changes to your body.

Sometimes counselling can help you to work through any worries you have.

Sex after breast cancer surgery

Breast surgery doesn't affect you being able to have sex. But your emotions might change your sexual feelings for a while. And you might worry about allowing your partner to see or touch your body.

There is no right or wrong way to approach this. You might feel very sensitive and need time to build up your courage to be looked at or touched by your partner. Or you might need almost instant comfort and find that a loving touch relieves your fear of being rejected.

You might find it helpful to take your partner with you for clinic visits before the operation. That way they will be prepared for how you will look after surgery.

Getting help and support

There are many people who can help and support you. Not everyone feels comfortable asking for help. Talk to someone you trust. Some organisations can put you in touch with women in your area who have been through the same experience. 

For information and support you can call the Cancer Research UK nurses on 0808 800 4040 from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. You can talk about any concerns you have about breast cancer surgery and how you might look and feel afterwards.

Sharon's story

Sharon had surgery in 2016. 

‘I never thought I would get back to full strength, it took me a while to enjoy life fully again.’

  • Early and locally advanced breast cancer: diagnosis and treatment
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), July 2018

  • Cancer Principles and Practices of Oncology (11th Edition)
    V.T Devita, T.S Lawrence and S.A Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer, 2019

  • “I Have both Lost and Gained. “ Norwegian Survivors’ Experiences of Coping 9 Years After Primary Breast Cancer Surgery
    S Drageset and others
    Cancer Nursing, 2020. Volume 43, Issue 1, Pages E30 – E37

  • Psychological Impact of Alterations In Sexuality, Fertility, And Body Image In Young Breast Cancer Patients and Their Partners
    M Miaja, A Platas and B A Martinez-Cannon
    Clinical and Translational Investigation, 2017. Volume 69, Number 4, Pages 204 to 209

  • Feeling well and talking about sex: psycho-social predictors of sexual functioning after cancer
    J Perz and others
    BMC Cancer, 2014. Volume 14, Issue 228

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.

Last reviewed: 
02 Jul 2020
Next review due: 
02 Jul 2023

Related links