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Life after bone surgery

Get tips on coping after surgery for bone cancer.

This page is about cancer that starts in your bone (primary bone cancer).

If your cancer has spread into bone from another part of the body, it is called secondary bone cancer.

Physiotherapy

Having bone surgery can be a lot to cope with. After bone surgery, you will need a lot of physiotherapy to get you going again.

Further surgery

You might need further operations in the future if you have limb sparing surgery.

If you are young and had not finished growing when you had your false bone or joint put in, you may need to have it replaced as you get bigger. Some false bones are made to expand. If you have one of these, you will still need to go into hospital from time to time to have it extended.

Possible problems

Eventually, most people who have a false joint or bone will develop some sort of complication that needs surgery to put it right. This might be an infection or a problem with the prosthesis.

Infection

You might have:

  • pain 
  • swelling 
  • fever
  • an open wound over the operation site
Infection in bone needs urgent treatment, so if you are worried or have any signs of infection call your doctor.

Problems with the prosthesis

Your false joint might  feel different or seem unstable to you if it is coming loose. It might be making a noise that it hasn't made before if there is some sort of mechanical failure. Get it checked out by your surgeon.

Wear and tear

False bones and joints very rarely break.

After several years, there may be signs of wear and tear in your false bone or joint. The plastic surfaces of the joint or bone can become worn and need replacing. If you had a metal rod inserted into your bone this can sometimes become loose and so may need replacing or strengthening.

If you had a false knee fitted due to bone cancer, you are likely to need further surgery at some point in the future. Around 3 people out of every 100 each year (3%) need a replacement knee joint.

If you are still growing when you get your false bone or joint you will have a growing prosthesis inserted. The growing prosthesis is lengthened regularly. It is normally lengthened by electro magnets. You don't need to have surgery to have it lengthened.

Problems with scarring

Limb sparing surgery can be a very big operation involving cutting into a lot of tissue, bone and muscle. It may leave you with a long scar. You might have some tightness and discomfort if you have radiotherapy to the area, as this can make healthy tissues less stretchy over time.

Having major surgery and scarring can cause different problems.

Difficulty moving your limb

You will have trouble moving the affected limb to start with. But your physiotherapists will give you lots of exercises that will gradually make moving easier for you.

Changes in how you look

How you look is an important part of your self esteem. It can be very hard to accept sudden changes in your looks that you are not happy with.

It is not unusual for people who have had limb sparing surgery to feel confused and upset for some time after their operation. You may feel worried about how your friends and family see you. You may feel that you are no longer as physically attractive. Going back to work, meeting new people and going for job interviews can all be more of a struggle if you are coping with changes in your appearance. 

The important thing to remember is that the people closest to you will not see you any differently as a person. Try and talk to them, they can help to support you when they know how you feel.

Changes to your appearence might affect how you feel about sex.

Swelling in your arm of leg (lymphoedema)

The lymphatic system carries clear watery fluid called lymph, which drains out from the small blood vessels (capillaries) into the body tissues.

Parts of the lymphatic system

Swelling after bone cancer surgery is uncommon, unless you have had radiotherapy to the lymph nodes that normally drain fluid from the limb. The radiotherapy makes it more difficult for the tissue fluid to circulate and drain out of the limb, as it normally would.

This can cause swelling, called lymphoedema. 

If lymphoedema is treated early, it can be controlled. But the longer it is left, the harder it is to get it under control. 
 

Talk to your doctor if you have a swollen hand or foot in the limb that was treated.

You can find a specialist lymphoedema practitioner through the British Lymphology Society. Or your doctor might refer you to a nurse or physiotherapist that specialises in lymphoedema.

If you have had an amputation

It can seem to take a long time before you can move around normally again and this may make you feel very low. It can take many months before you can put a lot of weight comfortably on your false leg. And it may take a while before your limb is completely comfortable. Most people get there within a year of their surgery.

There is help and support available if you need it. Your doctor could arrange counselling for you.

Sarcoma UK prvide help and support for people with bone or soft tissue sarcomas. You can call or email them in confidence.

You could also call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Last reviewed: 
16 Jan 2015
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