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Surgery Risks

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It's important to remember that the techniques used in breast cancer surgery have improved dramatically in recent years. But, as you probably know, any kind of surgery—everything from tonsillectomy to open heart surgery—involves risk. Below is a description of some of the risks and complications associated with breast cancer surgery, and how they are addressed.

  • Wound infections following surgery can usually be taken care of with antibiotics.
  • While not common, problems with wound healing include hematoma — an accumulation of blood in the wound — and seroma, an accumulation of clear fluid in the wound. Sometimes hematoma and seroma will resolve on their own. If not, both usually respond readily to treatment with surgical drains.
  • Excessive bleeding during or after breast cancer surgery is rare. If you are planning a more extensive surgery, such as a double mastectomy or reconstruction, you may consider donating blood before surgery.
  • Any time you go under general anesthesia, you put yourself at some risk for breathing and heart problems, as well as potential reactions to the anesthesia. There is also an extremely rare risk of death, averaging about one death in 200,000 cases.
  • Sometimes after surgery it may be harder than before for lymph fluid to drain from the arm. This can result in swelling, called lymphedema. There are many ways to prevent and manage lymphedema.
  • Reconstructive surgery carries its own unique risks. Learn more about risk factors associated with reconstruction that may affect your decisions.

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