Almost all patients need to take some time off from work when they undergo surgery for breast cancer treatment. This may be surgery in form of lumpectomy or a mastectomy with breast reconstruction. The time involved in recovery will depend upon the extent of treatment required and your personal health. Doctors and nurses also give you a general idea of the duration for which you need to stay in hospital and the time from which you can safely resume your normal activities.
The patients who undergo lumpectomy can usually go home within a day or two, and full recovery takes up to one or two weeks. But if you have mastectomy the hospital stay would be a little longer. Recovery time typically takes numerous weeks though again, it actually depends on several factors such as the kind of mastectomy you have and if you also have reconstruction at the same time.
After surgery, it is difficult if not impossible, to travel and stay elsewhere till the surgical drains are in place. You need to take all precautions during the recovery period and make conscious efforts not to strain yourself too much. Even if you are leaving for a holiday, try to stick to a familiar place where you can easily get medical attention if required.
You may have a choice to go for mastectomy (removal of the entire breast affected) or lumpectomy/wide local excision (removal of only the lump or section of cancer). Another surgery is quadrantectomy where about a quarter of breast tissue is removed to extract the tumor.
In case the biopsy report reveals that breast cancer has spread on the outer surface of the milk duct, the doctor would have to remove lymph nodes or do an axillary lymph node dissection. This may be done with lumpectomy and mastectomy. However, for some patients a less-invasive sentinel lymph node dissection would suffice.
This surgery is the rebuilding of breast post mastectomy and at times after lumpectomy. Reconstruction of breast may be done simultaneously with the cancer removal procedure or a few months or years later after the breast cancer treatment.
This form of mastectomy is simply a preventive removal of breast to lessen the possibility of breast cancer in women with a very high possibility of the disease.
Another preventive surgery, prophylactic ovary removal minimizes the amount of estrogen in the body, making it difficult for estrogen to cause the development, growth and spread of breast cancer.
Your ability to continue your regular work routine also depends on how you endure chemotherapy. While some patients continue to work with minimal strain, there are others who need to take time off.
From one chemotherapy cycle to another, your doctors will be able to determine with some regularity, when and how you will be having ‘good’ and ‘bad’ recovery days. If a patient goes through treatment every three weeks, for the first week or two after treatment, she may be nauseated, tired, and may be prone to infections. By the third week she usually feels healthier for work or travel.
It's important to remember that your treatment schedule can be flexible, especially if you have pre planned commitments or a vacation on mind. Speak to your doctors - they can begin the treatment at a later date and reschedule it without you having to miss any of its stage.
You could work while undergoing radiation treatments. Radiation schedule is normally for 5 days a week and lasts for 5 to 7 weeks but the appointments are typically brief. If you have efficient doctors at your treatment centre, the process only takes 15 to 30 minutes.
Many centers also open early and close late to make it feasible for patients to fit treatments into their daily routines. Radiation does not normally impact ability to work and most people only experience mild fatigue. However, for the greatest impact of radiation therapy, once you begin your treatment, it is important to keep to a continual schedule.
Hormonal therapies are generally taken in form of pill intake over several years and so they will not affect ability to work and perform normal activities. If you experience any side effects or have difficulties managing daily tasks, speak to your doctor and consider alternative therapies.
Targeted therapies are given in various ways and so their impact on your daily schedule will depend on the kind of medication that you take. Herceptin (chemical name: trastuzumab), the most well-known, is given through an IV, while Tykerb (chemical name: lapatinib), a newer therapy, has to be taken in pill form.
Individual reactions to these targeted therapies also vary. Once you know how your health reacts to the procedure, your doctor can plan your treatment weeks accordingly.
Common concerns for treatment include worries about getting a leave from office, changes in daily schedule, modifying or canceling pre planned vacations and sabbaticals. But at the end of it all, you need to remember that it is about your personal health and your willingness to fight a malignant disease. Support of family and good friends also matters and they can help you to make required adjustments in your work life schedule for a stress free and successful breast cancer treatment.
Experimental surgical treatments such as cryotherapy or cryosurgery are also being tried for successful treatment of breast cancer.
If you have to undergo a breast cancer surgery, it is good to have a candid discussion with your surgeon for all possible options. Your surgeon also talks about the treatment with a radiotherapist or clinical oncologist to plan out the most effective surgery. Rest assured that your own wishes and treatment most apt for your condition will be taken care of by your doctors.