Skip to content

    Breast Cancer Health Center

    Font Size

    Complications of Breast Cancer Surgery

    Breast cancer surgery is generally considered safe, but as with any surgery, there are risks.

    Possible problems include:

    Recommended Related to Breast Cancer

    Should You Be Tested for the Breast Cancer Gene?

    Most of the more than 232,000 cases of breast cancer that will be diagnosed in the United States this year are not due to a faulty gene passed down through families. As with most other cancers, they happen because of genetic mutations that happen as we age. But about 15% of women with breast cancer have at least one relative who has also had the disease, and 5% to 10% have specific inherited mutations in one of two genes that have been linked to breast cancer, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. These mutations...

    Read the Should You Be Tested for the Breast Cancer Gene? article > >

    • Infection.
    • Hematoma .A build-up of blood under your skin
    • Seroma. A build-up of fluid under your skin
    • Lymphedema . Swelling in the arm
    • A bad reaction to anesthesia

    Talk to your doctor about all these possibilities before you have your surgery. The medical staff will keep an eye out for problems while you're in the hospital. Once you’re home, you’ll need to know the symptoms of problems:

    Infection. Look for redness or swelling of the incision with pus or foul-smelling drainage. You may have a fever. Usually, antibiotics can treat these infections.

    Lymphedema. Look for swelling of the arm or hand on the side of the surgery. This happens to some women after the lymph nodes under the arm are removed. It may go away on its own, but you may need to see a physical or occupational therapist. Treatments may include:

    • Draining the fluid
    • Compression bandages to keep the swelling down
    • Skin care
    • Arm exercises

    Seroma. You may notice swelling from a build-up of fluid at the site of the surgery. Usually, fluid is absorbed by the body. If it doesn’t go down on its own, your doctor may need to drain the area, using a needle.

    If you notice any of these symptoms, let your doctor know right away.

    You may have pain and stiffness in your shoulder as you recover. You may also have numbness or unusual sensations in the upper arm or armpit. Usually these side-effects go away with time.

    Complications of Reconstructive Surgery

    Many women opt to get their breast reconstructed right after their cancer is removed. Problems can stem from that operation, too. They include:

    • Infection
    • Poor healing
    • A leak or rupture of your breast implant
    • Scar tissue around your implant

    Before any surgery, your doctor should give you information about the procedure, recovery, and follow-up care. Read it over, and get all your questions answered beforehand.

    When you understand the surgery and the possible complications, you’ll be better able to care for yourself and catch problems early on.

    WebMD Medical Reference

    Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on September 17, 2015

    Today on WebMD

    Breast Cancer Overview
    From mammograms to living after treatment.
    Dealing with breast cancer
    Get answers to your questions.
    woman having mammogram
    The 3 latest tips to know.
    woman undergoing breast cancer test
    Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
    Resolved To Quit Smoking
    Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
    Woman getting mammogram
    Screening Tests for Women
    serious woman
    Pink badge on woman chest to support breat cancer
    what is your cancer risk
    breast cancer survivors