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Complications of Breast Cancer Surgery

Mastectomy, lumpectomy, and axillary node dissection are fairly safe surgeries. But every surgery has the risk of complications.

You should contact your doctor immediately if you see any signs of:

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  • Infection, including redness and/or swelling of the incision with pus or foul-smelling drainage, perhaps with fever; antibiotics can be used to treat post-surgical infections.
  • Lymphedema , swelling of the arm and/or hand on the side of the surgery due to the removal of the lymph nodes under the arm; lymphedema often goes away on its own, but sometimes requires treatment. Treatment is usually provided by physical or occupational therapists and includes:
    • Manually draining the fluid
    • Caring for the skin
    • Exercising the arm
    • Wearing compression bandages to keep the swelling from recurring
  • Seroma, the accumulation of fluid in the location of the surgery; most of the time the fluid is absorbed by the body. However, the area may be drained, using a needle, if it does not go away on its own.

Other complications may include stiffness of the shoulder and possible numbness or altered sensation in the upper arm or armpit.

Before breast cancer surgery, your surgeon should provide you with information about recovery and follow-up care. Make sure you get all your questions answered before surgery.

Print out these Questions to Ask to take to your appointment so you can better understand your care.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Sujana Movva, MD on July 02, 2014

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