Side effects of surgery
Some common side effects are discussed below. Talk to your health care team about ways to deal with the side effects of surgery.
For on this, see Managing side effects.
Learn more about:
- Shoulder stiffness
- Numbness and tingling
- Change in breast, nipple or arm sensation
Cancer treatment and the emotional impact of the diagnosis can be tiring. Fatigue is common and may continue for a few weeks or months. Research shows that exercise during and after cancer treatment can help improve fatigue.
YWCA offers a free exercise program for people who have had breast cancer surgery – call 1800 305 150 or visit YWCA encore
This is common after surgery. Gentle arm and shoulder exercises can help prevent or manage shoulder stiffness.
Ask your treatment team when you can start exercising your arm. A physiotherapist can show you arm and shoulder exercises to prevent or treat shoulder stiffness. These will help move any fluid that has collected near the surgical scar (seroma), prevent shoulder stiffness and help to prevent lymphoedema.
For more on this, see Arm and shoulder exercises after breast surgery.
Numbness and tingling
Surgery can cause bruising or injury to nerves, which may cause numbness and tingling in the armpit, upper arm or chest area. This often improves within a few weeks, but it may take longer. Sometimes 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 and cause a balloon-like swelling. This is most common after a mastectomy. A seroma can also develop in the armpit after axillary dissection. The build-up of fluid is not harmful, but can be uncomfortable.
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 building-up in the tissue of the arm or breast may cause swelling after lymph node surgery. Learn about ways to manage lymphoedema.
My experience is that lymphoedema is very manageable if you notice the signs early. Although I’d had lots of lymphoedema education I actually missed the signs and didn’t realise I had it until I developed cellulitis.Suzanne
Also known as axillary web syndrome, cording is caused by hardened lymph vessels. It feels like a tight cord running from your armpit down the inner arm, sometimes to the palm of your hand. Some people can see and feel raised cord-like structures across their arm, and these cords can limit movement. Learn about ways to manage cording.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Prof Bruce Mann, Professor of Surgery, The University of Melbourne, and Director, Breast Tumour Stream, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Marie Burke, Radiation Oncologist, and Medical Director GenesisCare Oncology, QLD; Dr Susan Fraser, Breast Physician, Cairns Hospital and Marlin Coast Surgery Cairns, QLD; Ruth Groom, Consumer; Julie McGirr, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; A/Prof Catriona McNeil, Medical Oncologist, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Dr Roya Merie, Staff Specialist, Radiation Oncology, Liverpool Cancer Therapy Centre, Liverpool Hospital, NSW; Dr Eva Nagy, Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon, Sydney Oncoplastic Surgery, NSW; Gay Refeld, Clinical Nurse Consultant – Breast Care, St John of God Subiaco Hospital, WA; Genny Springham, Consumer.
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