Side effects of surgery
Talk to your doctor or breast care nurse about ways to deal with the side effects of surgery. Most side effects can be managed. For more on this, see the Living with Breast Cancer.
Feeling tired and having no energy is common after surgery, not only because of the treatment but also because of the emotional impact of the diagnosis. Fatigue may continue for a few weeks or months. There is evidence that exercise during and after cancer treatment can help improve fatigue.
See our Exercise for People Living with Cancer or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to find out about exercise programs. YWCA Encore is a free exercise program for women who have had breast cancer surgery – visit ywcaencore.org.au or call 1800 305 150.
Gentle arm and shoulder exercises can help prevent or manage shoulder stiffness. Talk to your health care team and see Exercising your arm for more information about these exercises.
Numbness and tingling
Surgery can cause bruising or injury to nerves, which may cause numbness and tingling in the chest and arm. This often improves within a few weeks, but it may take longer. For some people, it may not go away completely. A physiotherapist or occupational therapist can suggest exercises that may help.
Fluid may collect in or around the surgical scar. This is known as a seroma. A breast care nurse, your specialist or GP, or a radiologist can drain the fluid using a fine needle and a syringe. This procedure isn’t painful, but it may need to be repeated over a few appointments.
Change in breast, nipple or arm sensation
This is usually temporary, but it may be permanent for some people.
Fluid build-up may cause swelling in the arm or breast after lymph node surgery or radiation therapy. Learn more about managing lymphoedema.
Prof Christobel Saunders, Professor of Surgical Oncology and Head, Division of Surgery, The University of Western Australia, and Consultant Surgeon, Royal Perth, Fiona Stanley and St John of God Subiaco Hospitals, WA; Dr Marie-Frances Burke, Radiation Oncologist, Medical Director, Genesis CancerCare Queensland, QLD; Kylie Campbell, Breast Care Nurse and Clinical Lead, Murraylands, McGrath Foundation, SA; Carmen Heathcote, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Annmaree Mitchell, Consumer; Sarah Pratt, Nurse Coordinator, Breast Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Wendy Vincent, Breast Physician, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and Royal Hospital for Women, Randwick, NSW, and Clinical Director BreastScreen NSW, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW; A/Prof Nicholas Wilcken, Director of Medical Oncology, Westmead Hospital, and Co-ordinating Editor, Cochrane Breast Cancer Group, NSW. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title. This booklet is funded through the generosity of the people of Australia.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
The information on this page is also available for download.
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Practical advice and support during and after treatment