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Possible long term problems

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This page tells you about possible long term complications after an operation. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Possible long term problems after cancer surgery 

You may not have any long term problems but it is helpful to know about any that may occur. Before your operation your surgeon will explain any possible problems, both short and longer term. They will also explain the benefits of having the surgery. This will help you and your surgeon work out whether the benefits outweigh the possible risks. The possible problems will depend on the type of operation that you need.

Problems that people with cancer may have after some operations include pain or swelling (lymphoedema).

Pain usually goes a few weeks after surgery but some people need to carry on taking painkillers for longer. Some people have long term pain for some months after operations. This is rare but happens most commonly after chest surgery (thoracotomy) and after breast removal (mastectomy). People who have a limb removed (amputation) can also have pain for some months after surgery. Although the limb has gone the person still feels pain in the area where the limb was. This is called phantom pain.

If you have pain for longer than your doctor has told you to expect or if the pain is severe, tell your doctor or nurse. They can refer you to a pain specialist.

Lymphoedema is swelling caused by a build up of fluid in part of the body. It can occur if part of the lymphatic system is removed or damaged during surgery. The most common area for lymphoedema in people with cancer is in an arm or leg. More rarely it develops in other areas including the chest or head and neck. Most people will not get lymphoedema. But if you notice any swelling after surgery, tell your doctor or nurse.

 

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Possible problems

Long term problems do not happen to everyone and will not necessarily happen to you. Before your operation your surgeon will explain any possible problems, both short and longer term. They will also explain the benefits of having the surgery. This will help you and your surgeon work out whether the benefits outweigh the possible risks.

The possible problems depend on the type of operation. You can find more information about possible problems of surgery for your particular cancer in the section about your cancer type.

 

Pain

Pain usually goes a few weeks after surgery, but some people need to carry on taking painkillers for longer. Some people have long term pain for some months after operations. This most often happens with chest surgery (thoracotomy) or removal of a breast (mastectomy). Continuing pain after surgery is called post operative pain syndrome.

Some people have pain when they have had a limb removed. Although the limb has gone the person still feels pain in the area where the limb was. This is called phantom pain.

If you have pain for longer than expected after an operation or if the pain is severe, you can ask your doctor or nurse to refer you to a pain specialist. If pain is not well controlled soon after the operation it may become more difficult to control it in the future. There is detailed information about cancer and pain control in the section about coping physically with cancer.

 

Lymphoedema

Lymphoedema is swelling caused by a build up of fluid in part of the body. It usually occurs in an arm or leg, but can happen in other areas, such as the chest or head and neck. It affects areas where lymph nodes have been damaged or removed. Most people will not get lymphoedema. But if you notice swelling in your hands or feet after surgery to the armpit or groin, you should tell your doctor. 

Once lymphoedema has happened, it cannot be got rid of completely. But if caught early it can be treated and controlled very well. We have a section about lymphoedema and its treatment.

You can find more information about the problems associated with particular operations in the surgery section of your cancer type.

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Updated: 20 February 2014