Coronavirus and cancer

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Possible long term problems

Long term problems don't happen to everyone and won't necessarily happen to you. 

Before your operation your surgeon explains any possible problems, both short and longer term. They also explain the benefits of having the surgery. This helps you and your surgeon work out whether the benefits outweigh the possible risks. The possible problems depend on the type of operation you have.


Pain usually goes a few weeks after surgery but you might need to carry on taking painkillers for longer. 

Some people have long term pain for some months after an operation. This most often happens with chest surgery (thoracotomy) or removal of a breast (mastectomy). Continuing pain after surgery is called postoperative pain syndrome.

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

Ask your doctor or nurse to refer you to a pain specialist if you have pain for longer than expected after an operation or if the pain is severe. If pain is not well controlled soon after the operation, it might become more difficult to control it in the future.


Lymphoedema is swelling caused by a build up of fluid in part of the body. It usually happens 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. 

The lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system. This is a network of thin tubes and nodes (glands) in the body that filters lymph fluid and fights infection.

Most people won't 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 can't be got rid of completely. But if caught early it can be treated and controlled very well.

Last reviewed: 
20 Mar 2019
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  • Principles and practice of oncology (9th edition)
    VT De Vita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2011

  • Oncology Nursing (5th Edition)
    M Langhorne, J Fulton and S Otto.
    Mosby, 2007

  • Lymphoedema referral and management guidelines

    London Cancer Alliance (2015)

Information and help