You may require a drain after surgery from your breast cancer. Occasionally a drain is placed after a lumpectomy or limited axillary surgery, but after a mastectomy you will get a drain. Why you ask? Because during surgery the lymphatic vessels are cut removing the breast. These lymphatic vessels normally drain fluid from the breast and after the breast is removed, the fluid can leak into the area that the breast was removed. The body can reabsorb some fluid without any problems, but if this volume of fluid is more than about 25 mL per day the fluid can accumulate and form a seroma.
There are different types of surgical drains that can be used, but mostly like your surgeon will use a Jackson-Pratt. These drains are placed within your surgical field and are attached to flexible tubing that passes through and is stitched to your skin. The tubing is capped with a soft plastic bulb, which catches and holds the fluid, and a stopper outside of your body.
Gradually, the lymphatic vessels will seal off and the drainage should stop. Your surgeon will remove the drain when the fluid is less than 20 ml (but this varies from surgeon to surgeon). This is the reason why it is important to measure the total amount of fluid that is generated through each drain every day so that we can tell whether the drain is ready to be removed. If the drains are removed to soon, the fluid will re-accumulate in the surgical site and it may need to be drained out after surgery.
Yes, no one like drains. They are pesky, annoying, and uncomfortable, but remember: When blood and lymphatic fluid collect in the surgical site, it can cause discomfort, and delay healing if not drained.