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.
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
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: