Everyone responds differently to mastectomy. Some side effects happen to most people, others happen only occasionally. Some side effects happen straight after surgery, others take longer to develop.
Most side effects can be reduced or managed with appropriate care.
Common side effects of mastectomy:
- pain, discomfort or numbness in the breast and/or armpit while the wounds are healing – this usually settles after a few weeks
- fluid may collect in or around the scar in the breast or armpit – this is called a seroma and may need to be drained using a fine needle and a syringe; this can be done by a breast care nurse or another health professional in the clinic or by a GP
- stiffness in the arm or shoulder – it may be helpful to do some approved exercises after surgery
- numbness or tingling in the arm or shoulder if lymph nodes have been removed – this may improve with time, but feeling in these areas may change permanently
- mild pain in the armpit or upper arm – this can last a year or more after surgery if lymph nodes have been removed
Side effects that sometimes develop after mastectomy:
- swelling or bruising around the wound in the chest or armpit – this usually settles in a few weeks
- if lymph nodes have been removed, there may be swelling in the arm, breast, hand or chest that lasts after the initial side effects of surgery are over; this is called lymphoedema and can develop a few months or years after surgery.
Rare side effects of breast conserving surgery:
- infection or bleeding in the scar on the chest; some women might need further surgery.