June 25th, 2012 by Hasham
Side Effects of Breast Cancer Surgery
The surgeon will explain possible side effects with a woman before she has surgery. After surgery, a woman’s health-care team will work closely with her to manage or relieve as many of her side effects as possible. Below is a description of side effects resulting from breast cancer surgery as well as some important breast cancer management strategies.
Temporary pain. Surgery can cause pain and tenderness in the area that was operated on. Women may want to talk with their doctors and nurses about how to control the pain.
Shift in weight. Removal of a breast can make a woman’s weight shift, and she may feel off-balance, especially if she has large breasts. This can cause discomfort in a woman’s neck and back.
Tightness in skin. The skin in the breast area may be tight, and the muscles of the arm and shoulder may feel stiff. After breast surgery, some women lose strength in these muscles, but this is usually temporary. The doctor, nurse or physical therapist can recommend exercises to help a woman use her arm and shoulder normally again.
Changes in sensation. In order to remove the breast in a mastectomy, the nerves, which give feeling to the skin over the breast, must be cut. This results in numbness or tingling over the chest in almost all women. Sensation often returns 1 to 2 years after surgery, but is usually not completely normal. Similar feelings may be noted on the upper inner part of the arm if the nerve to this area cannot be saved during removal of the underarm lymph nodes.
Phantom breast sensations. Some women may also feel that their breast is still there after it has been removed. This phenomenon, known as phantom breast sensation, can be a temporary sensation or a permanent one. People who have had a limb removed experience this as well. If a woman experiences this, she should let her doctor or nurse know. (Courtesy of EyeWire)
Lymphedema. If a woman’s lymph nodes are removed from her armpit, she may experience swelling in her hand or arm on the side where she had her surgery. This risk is increased if her cancer treatment involves radiation therapy to her armpit. This is called lymphedema. It may occur right after surgery or it may happen later. It is caused when excess lymph collects in tissue. A woman’s doctor or nurse can suggest treatments to help deal with this side effect. There are things a woman can do to decrease her risk of lymphedema. She should protect her arm and hand from injury, avoid heavy lifting, and notify her doctor immediately of any signs of infection, such as redness or warmth, pain that starts suddenly and swelling in the arm. For more information visit the National
Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatment
The side effects you experience will depend on the type, location, and extent of your breast cancer and the treatment you receive. Side effects are very individual and may not be the same for two people with similar diagnoses that are receiving the same treatment. They may even vary for the same individual from one treatment session to the next. It’s important to discuss the possible side effects you may experience with your doctor and have a plan in place for managing them before you begin treatment.
Breast Cancer Surgery Side Effects
Breast cancer develops from mutated breast cells that begin to divide uncontrollably and form a tumor. One of the first-line treatments for breast cancer is surgery. There are a number of breast cancer removal surgeries, which vary by how extensive they are: Some surgeries remove the tumor while conserving healthy breast tissue, and other surgeries remove the entire breast, as well as some surrounding tissues. Any surgical procedure comes with risks and complications, and there are a number of possible side effects of breast cancer surgery.
One possible effect of breast cancer surgery is infection. Infection at the incision site is extremely common, and affects more than one in 20 patients, reports BreastCancer.org. The organization also reports that the rate of infection is even higher in patients receiving breast reconstruction after their breast cancer surgery, with one in eight patients developing infections after surgery. Infection at the site of surgery can lead to redness and swelling, and may present a serious health risk if the infection involves antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Taking antibiotics before and after surgery can reduce a patient’s risk of developing an infection.
Another common effect of breast cancer surgery is a condition called lymphedema, which develops when lymphatic fluid cannot circulate properly. Several breast cancer surgeries involve the removal of some or all of the lymph nodes in the armpit. These lymph nodes normally aid in circulating lymphatic fluid, and when they are removed, sometimes lymph fluid collects in the arm on the affected side of the body. According to the University of Virginia Health System, lymphedema can occur shortly after surgery, or develop months later. Patients with lymphedema experience pain in the affected arm. The joints may feel stiff due to excess fluid, and patients may experience muscle weakness.
Pain and Stiffness
Patients may also experience shoulder or chest pain and stiffness after breast cancer surgery. In more aggressive surgeries, some or all of the chest muscles may be removed. In some cases, smaller chest muscles must be removed to allow for lymph node removal, whereas in other cases all the chest muscles are removed if they have been invaded by the breast cancer. Removing these muscles helps contribute to shoulder and chest pain after surgery, as well as muscle stiffness. Patients may also experience “phantom pain” in the chest as the nerves re-grow and adjust after surgery.
We examined the impact of surgical treatments (breast-conserving surgery [BCS], mastectomy alone, mastectomy with reconstruction) and surgical side-effects severity on early stage (0-IIA) breast cancer patients’ body image over time. We interviewed patients at 4-6 weeks (T1), six (T2), 12 (T3), and 24 months (T4) following definitive surgical treatment. We examined longitudinal relationships among body image problems, surgery type, and surgical side-effects severity using the Generalized Estimating Equation approach, controlling for demographic, clinical, and psychosocial factors. We compared regression coefficients of surgery type from two models, one with and one without surgical side-effects severity. Of 549 patients enrolled (mean age 58; 75% White; 65% BCS, 12% mastectomy, 23% mastectomy with reconstruction), 514 (94%) completed all four interviews. In the model without surgical side-effects severity, patients who underwent mastectomy with reconstruction reported poorer body image than patients who underwent BCS at T1-T3 (each P < 0.02), but not at T4. At T2, patients who underwent mastectomy with reconstruction also reported poorer body image than patients who underwent mastectomy alone (P = 0.0106). Adjusting for surgical side-effects severity, body image scores did not differ significantly between patients with BCS and mastectomy with reconstruction at any interview; however, patients who underwent mastectomy alone had better body image at T2 than patients who underwent mastectomy with reconstruction (P = 0.011). The impact of surgery type on body image within the first year of definitive surgical treatment was explained by surgical side-effects severity. After 2 years, body image problems did not differ significantly by surgery type.
Treatment & Side Effects
In recent years, there’s been an explosion of life-saving treatment advances against breast cancer, bringing new hope and excitement. Instead of only one or two options, today there’s an overwhelming menu of treatment choices that fight the complex mix of cells in each individual cancer. The decisions — surgery, then perhaps radiation, hormonal (anti-estrogen) therapy, and/or chemotherapy — can feel overwhelming.
Breastcancer.org can help you understand your cancer stage and appropriate options, so you and your doctors can arrive at the best treatment plan for YOU.
In the following pages of the Treatment and Side Effects section, you can learn about:
Planning Your Treatment
What types of treatment are available, the most likely sequence of treatments, treatment options by cancer stage, and fitting treatment into your schedule.
Getting a Second Opinion
Reasons for getting a second opinion about your treatment plan, how to go about getting one, and what to do once you’ve got it.
Breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy), mastectomy, and lymph node dissection, and what to expect from each. Also included: Prophylactic surgery and breast reconstruction.
How chemotherapy works, who should get it, different types and combinations, and side effects and how to manage them.
How radiation therapy works, who it’s for, advantages, side effects, and what to expect when you get it.
The link between hormones and breast cancer and how different groups of drugs — including ERDs, SERMs, and aromatase inhibitors — can affect that link. Also covered: Side effects of hormonal therapies
How they work, who should get them, how they’re given, side effects, and major studies.
Complementary & Holistic Medicine
How complementary medicine techniques such as acupuncture, meditation, and yoga could be a helpful addition to your regular medical treatment. Includes research on complementary techniques and ways to find qualified practitioners.
Drugs for Treatment and Risk Reduction
A reference list of drugs used to treat and reduce the risk of breast cancer, including how they work, to whom they are typically given, and side effects.
Treatments for Pain
Ways to treat cancer- and treatment-related pain, including types of medications and tips on talking to your doctors about pain.
Treatment Side Effects
A reference list of side effects and ways to manage them.
All about lymphedema, including who is at risk, what to watch out for, how to reduce risk of lymphedema flare-ups, and how to find a lymphedema therapist.
What clinical trials are and how they work, why they’re important, and how to find trials that may be appropriate for you.