Complications of Breast Cancer Surgery

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

Possible problems include:

  • 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 Gabriela Pichardo on January 20, 2020


SOURCES: "Surgery Risks," “Is Breast Reconstruction Right for You?”

American Cancer Society: “Surgery for Breast Cancer.”

Michael S Sabel, MD, "Patient education: Surgical procedures for breast cancer — Mastectomy and breast conserving therapy (Beyond the Basics)"

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