Complications after surgery

Sometimes problems or complications occur after surgery. It’s very unlikely that all of the problems described here would apply to you. Your surgeon can give you a better idea of your actual risks.

Generally, the more complex the surgery is, the higher the chance of problems. Most complications are minor and can be treated easily, but some can have serious consequences.

Learn more about:


The biggest risk of infection after surgery is at the wound site, but infection can also occur in the chest, in the urine, and around the catheter site. There are some simple ways to prevent infections. Sometimes the doctor will prescribe medicine before surgery (prophylactic antibiotics). You will be checked for signs of infection, such as tenderness, redness or swelling around the wound or a discharge from the wound, cloudy urine, cough, shortness of breath and chest pain.


Bleeding can happen inside the body (internally) or outside the body (externally). Internal bleeding can occur if a blood vessel breaks free after surgery, and external bleeding can occur if a wound opens up. Your medical team will manage any bleeding after surgery. This could include giving you a blood transfusion or further surgery to stop the bleeding.


Blood clots or DVT 

All surgery and some cancers increase the risk of developing blood clots in the deep veins of the legs or pelvis (deep vein thrombosis or DVT). There are ways to prevent this from occurring, including being given injections of anti-clotting drugs, wearing compression stockings during and after surgery, and using devices called pneumatic cuffs to keep the calf muscles moving during and sometimes after surgery. The nurses will also encourage you to get out of bed and move around as soon as you feel up to it.

Lung problems 

After surgery, it may be painful to breathe or cough for a period of time, particularly if you have had surgery to your chest or abdomen. A physiotherapist will teach you breathing or coughing exercises to help keep your lungs clear and reduce the risk of a chest infection. You will be encouraged to get out of bed and move around. Your medical team will observe your breathing during your recovery and provide medicine to control any pain you have.

Weak muscles (atrophy) 

Although you’ll need to rest after surgery, it’s important to get up and move around. If you aren’t mobile, your muscles may get weak (atrophy). A physiotherapist or nurse may help you to get moving as soon as possible and give you advice about the best exercises to do. Generally, the sooner you are able to get up and move, the better your recovery will be.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on surgery

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

Need more help? Visit:


To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit:

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit:

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in April 2019
View who reviewed this content
View our editorial policy

Support services

Online Community
Check out this supportive online community for people affected by cancer

Cancer Connect
Talk to someone who has experienced cancer

Need legal and financial assistance?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment

Cancer information

Staying healthy after treatment
Learn how to take a balanced approach to exercise, diet and risk factors

Relaxation and meditation
Learn how relaxation and mediation can help you both during and after cancer treatment, or listen to our relaxation and meditation audio tracks