A side effect known as cording or axillary web syndrome can happen weeks or months after some types of surgery for early breast cancer, including:

  • breast-conserving surgery
  • mastectomy
  • axillary surgery.

Cording feels like a tight cord running from your armpit down the inner arm, sometimes to the palm of your hand, and is caused by hardened lymph vessels. Some people can see and feel raised cordlike structures across their arm, and these may restrict movement.

How to manage cording

In most cases of cording, the condition improves over a few months.

Gentle stretching during the first weeks after surgery can help. Cancer Council’s Exercises after breast cancer surgery poster shows some simple arm exercises that may help, but check with your treatment team first.

If there is no improvement or the cording is getting worse, try physiotherapy, massage, or laser treatment from a lymphoedema practitioner.

This information was last reviewed in July 2016
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