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Breast Cancer Treatment And Recovery Times

Treatment Schedule and Time Management During Breast Cancer

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Updated May 19, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

A diagnosis of breast cancer can really disrupt your life -- emotions, physical health, finances, and relationships may be affected. When you were diagnosed you may have been working full-time, raising a family, or pursuing your dreams. Your calendar was full and your life was busy. Suddenly, your schedule is invaded by a raft of appointments with surgeons, oncologists, nurses, technicians, and therapists. You instantly have a new job -- getting through breast cancer treatment. Let's look at how long treatments and recovery can take, and talk about keeping track of your time.

Balance The Demands Of Life And Treatment

If you are working outside the home, you may need to know how much sick leave time to ask for. Be sure you know the sick leave policy at your job, and give your supervisor the best estimate you can. Remember that if you hit a snag during treatment, you'll be out longer than you had planned, so be sure to let your boss know what's going on.

Keep a calendar in your health notebook to keep track of all appointments. Don't overbook yourself -- especially on treatment and recovery days. Ask for help and delegate tasks while you are recovering.

Estimated Breast Cancer Surgery And Recovery Times

Lumpectomy: 7 - 14 Days Recovery
A lumpectomy is an outpatient procedure, so you'll be going home the same day of surgery. You may have surgical drains in place, so don't hurry back to work. If you have lymph nodes removed during your lumpectomy, healing will take longer than one week. Get someone else to do the driving and heavy lifting, and postpone your housecleaning, sports, and gardening.

Mastectomy: 1 - 3 Weeks Recovery
A mastectomy is an inpatient procedure, so you'll be in the hospital one or two days after surgery. You will have surgical drains in place for 5-7 days to help with healing -- those will be removed during a follow-up appointment with your surgeon. Barring complications, your incisions should heal within three to four weeks.

If you have lymph nodes removed during your mastectomy, healing will take longer than one week. Mastectomy is often done with immediate breast reconstruction, but that should not delay healing from surgery. Get plenty of rest and take time to process your emotions while you recover.

Re-excision: 3 - 7 Days Recovery
Not everyone will require a re-excision if surgical margins were clear. This is an outpatient procedure that is done after a lumpectomy to ensure clear margins. You will go home after your surgery. You may have a surgical drain to manage, but it can be removed relatively quickly. Take it easy at home until your drain is no longer needed.

Breast Reconstruction: Recovery Times Vary
Because breast reconstruction can range from implants placed during a mastectomy to a free flap transplant, your recovery time will depend on the complexity of your reconstruction method. Some types of reconstruction involve two or three separate surgical procedures to complete your new breast. In case you will need radiation treatments, reconstruction may be delayed until you have completed all sessions.

Estimated Breast Cancer Treatments And Recovery Times

Radiation: 1 - 6 Weeks of Treatments
A standard course of breast radiation treatments after surgery is set up for every weekday for six or seven weeks. Any side effects you may have will be cumulative, so plan on taking some time to rest on weekends and at the end of treatment.

Accelerated Partial Breast Irradiation (APBI) can be completed in three weeks. Brachytherapy, or internal breast radiation, can be done in five days, with mild side effects and a short recovery time.

Chemotherapy: 3 - 6 Months of Treatments
A weekly lower-dose chemotherapy schedule will be given for 12 weeks (3 months) straight. A standard chemo schedule will be given once every three weeks, with additional office visits for lab work and shots. So if you are having four standard cycles of chemo, treatments will take about three months to complete. For six standard cycles of chemo, treatments will take about five to six months to complete.

Each infusion will take 3-4 hours, and lab appointments should take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on how busy your clinic may be. If your side effects are mild, you can return to normal activities in between each treatment, but if they are bothersome, plan on taking time off to recover.

Recovery times from chemotherapy vary with each person. Remember that chemo is a systemic treatment that will affect your entire body. You should plan on 1-3 months of recovery time per each standard dose of chemotherapy once your treatments are over.

Moving Forward After Breast Cancer

Recovery times depend on your health before diagnosis, your body's response to treatments, lifestyle factors, and levels of physical activity during recovery. Exercising, eating a healthy diet, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, and gradually returning to normal activities can speed your recovery.

Emotional recovery is a more complicated process that each of us works through on our own schedule. If you feel a nagging depression or have constant fear about recurrence, ask for help.

Most physical side effects will decrease over time as your health rebounds, but some may linger. Your body will bear scars from the battle, lymphedema and chemobrain may affect you longer than you'd like, and relationships may have changed. Life after breast cancer involves change, so give yourself plenty of room and time to adjust. Survivorhood is a great place to live!

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