Risk Management & Treatment

Effects of surgery

Every surgery has potential risks; some are more serious than others. Risks and complications of surgery may depend on several factors, including:

  • the type of surgical procedure the size, stage and location of the cancer and how much it has spread
  • removal of lymph nodes
  • the overall health of the patient
  • medications or treatments before or after surgery

Not all people experience side effects, but those who do may have options for minimizing or eliminating some of them. It is important for you to discuss possible surgical risks and long term complications with your surgeon to understand the seriousness and likelihood of each of these risks. For more information on specific types of surgery for cancer treatment, visit our Cancer Treatment by Cancer Type section.


Recovery and short-term risks

Some of the more common short-term effects of surgery may include:

  • anesthesia risks
  • infection
  • fluid build-up at the surgical site (seroma or hematoma)
  • delayed healing
  • blood loss
  • blood clots
  • injury to nearby organs
  • pain (post-operative pain)

It's important to ask your surgeon what you should watch for after surgery to assure that your body is healing normally. Report any fever, worsening of pain, or discharge, swelling or redness at the incision site to your surgeon. 


Late-onset or long-term complications

Late-onset or long-term complications persist six months or longer after surgery. These may include: 

  • numbness or unusual sensations (such as itching) at or near the surgical site
  • hardening or scarring of tissue around the surgical site
  • long-term pain syndromes 
  • fluid buildup and swelling of extremities (lymphedema)
  • long-term loss of mobility

Physical therapy, special massage, exercise programs and medications may help address some of the long-term complications of surgery. It's important that you report any symptoms or changes in your health to your doctor so that they can assess the cause of your symptoms and treat them. 

finding-experts
  • Many cancer centers offer lymphedema experts, and pain management experts. As your doctor to refer you to experts who can address your symptoms and concerns. The following resources can help you find the following experts:
  • The American Physical Therapy Association's ChoosePT.com website allows you to search for a physical therapist in your area.  
  • The Lymphatic Education & Resource Network has tips and tools for finding lymphedema experts.
  • The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine has a searchable directory of licensed acupuncturists.