When Can I Return to Work After Breast Cancer Surgery?

Returning to work after breast cancer surgery varies from patient to patient.

return to work after breast cancer surgeryBreast cancer surgery can take a huge physical toll on the body, which requires rest and care for proper healing. Many women have questions about when they will be able to return to work after breast cancer surgery. That answer, Dr. Julie Billar says, depends on the type of surgery you have.

Watch as Dr. Billar details the recovery process with each surgical option. Once the recovery process is over and your doctor has cleared you, you will be able to return to your regular work schedule.

Video Transcript

Julie Billar, M.D.: How fast you get back to work after a breast cancer surgery will depend on what kind of surgery you have had. It can range anywhere from two days to as long as eight weeks. Most women heal very well after breast cancer surgery, but the time it takes for you to get back to work will depend on what type of surgery you have had.

After a lumpectomy, most women heal very well and very quickly, usually after a day or two. You are back to doing almost all of the things that you want to do in your daily activity like walking around the house, eating, feeding yourself, showering and all of those normal activities. If you have a job that doesn’t require too much vigorous activity, if you wanted to, you could go back to work after a couple of days. Although, I would say that most women will plan to spend about a week off of work so that they can relax and regain their energy at home. If though you have a job that requires a bit more physical activity or heavy lifting, I would recommend that you take that first full week off of work rather than returning too quickly because you may not even have your full range of motion, your strength or your energy back by then and you want to make sure that your wounds are adequately healed before you go back to that level of activity.

Now after a mastectomy, it does depend on whether or not you have had reconstruction to determine how long it takes for you to get back to work. For a mastectomy without reconstruction, I would consider that along the lines of someone who has had a lumpectomy except that you probably will have drains in your breast after your surgery and those drains are things that you want to take care of and make sure that they don’t pull out or drag and sometimes that can be a lot to manage while going back to work at the same time. Typically, drains stay in the breast after a mastectomy without reconstruction for approximately a week, so most women will plan for a week or sometimes two after their surgery before going back to work.

Now mastectomy with reconstruction is a whole different category because it will depend on what kind of reconstruction you have had. Reconstruction that uses tissue expanders or implants will generally require at least a couple of weeks off of work and some of them will take anywhere from two to four weeks off of work to make sure that you have overcome your discomfort and that your drains are out and that your plastic surgeon has cleared you for activity as well because a lot of times, your range of motion is a bit more limited after that type of surgery.

The final category though is reconstruction with autologous tissue, which means tissue removed from one portion of your body to your breast to recreate and reshape the breast and that one requires the longest period of time off of work. Most plastic surgeons will allot approximately six to eight weeks off of work for that type of reconstruction because there is a lot of healing that has to be done. We want to make sure that you are healed, that you have your energy, and that your pain is under control before you get back into the workplace.

Julie Billar
A graduate of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Dr. Julie Billar completed her internship and residency in General Surgery at Mayo School of Graduate Medical Education.Dr. Billar is board certified by the American Board of Surgery and specializes in the treatment of breast disease as well as breast and lymph node surgeries.
Julie Billar

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