Damage and Side Effects of Surgery

This is to inform you of the damage surgery can cause and the side-effects you may experience so you can choose if it’s right for you (or not) based on an educated decision; without pressure from your doctor, family members, or friends.

Remember, it’s your body, and your future. Not your doctor’s.

So, if your oncologist is suggesting something that doesn’t feel right to you, research it yourself. Know the side-effects, know the options, and know the alternatives. For ease of explanation, we will focus on only 2 of the more common cancer surgeries.

Breast Cancer

First of all, there are two main types of surgery that are done in the case of breast cancer.

1) Breast-Conserving Surgery – Only the part of the breast that contains the cancer is removed. Breast-conserving surgery is also referred to as lumpectomy, quadrantectomy, segmental mastectomy, or partial mastectomy.

2) Mastectomy – One or both breasts are fully removed, this can sometimes include removal of the nearby tissue as well.

Damage and Side-Effects of Breast Cancer Surgery:

  • Pain – Pain experienced after breast cancer surgery can result from injury to muscle and ligaments during surgery.
  • Damage to nerve tissue which can cause persistent neuropathic pain.
  • Tenderness
  • Muscle Stiffness
  • Risk of Infection – signs of infection include: swelling at the incision, redness, fever, and pus.
  • Fluid Build-up under the Skin (Seroma)
  • Blood Build-up under the Skin (Hematoma)
  • A Reaction to the Anesthesia
  • Swelling in the Arm (Lymphedema) – Lymphedema occurs in 15-25% of patients. [1]
  • Skin Thickening – “Skin thickening or fibrosis of the breast or chest wall is observed in about 1/3 of patients.” [1]
  • Impaired Arm and/or Shoulder Mobility – Occurs from 10% to almost 70% of patients “depending on the method of assessment (measured or self-reported), time since treatment, and type of surgery, with greater impairment for mastectomy than lumpectomy and RT [radiation therapy] versus no RT [radiation therapy].” [1]
  • Metastatic spread of cancer.

Ovarian Cancer

There are several types of surgery in the case of ovarian cancer. And sometimes there are two or more procedures being done during the same surgery. These include:

1) Hysterectomy – A hysterectomy is a surgery that removes a woman’s uterus and often times the surrounding tissue as well. There are two types of hysterectomy, partial and total. Partial hysterectomy is when only the uterus is removed. If the uterus and cervix are removed, it is a total hysterectomy.

2) Salpingo-oophorectomy – Removal of the either one or both ovaries and fallopian tubes. A bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy is when both ovaries and both fallopian tubes are removed.

However, if the woman has a tumor in only one ovary, has caught the cancer at an early stage, and wants to have children in the future, a surgery called unilateral salpingo-oophorectomy is done. This means only one ovary and one fallopian tube is removed.

And if the woman has a germ-cell tumor, often only the one ovary with the tumor is removed. Therefore preserving her ability to have children in the future.

3) Debulking Surgery – Generally this is for women with later-stage ovarian cancer. It includes removal of the uterus, cervix, ovaries, and fallopian tubes, as well as tissue from surrounding organs such as the spleen, stomach, bladder, gallbladder, pancreas, and/or colon.

4) Lymph node dissection – Removal of lymph nodes in the pelvis area.

Damage and Side-Effects of Ovarian Cancer Surgery:

  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Difficulty Emptying Bladder
  • Premature Menopause
    • Hot Flashes
    • Vaginal Dryness
    • Night Sweats
    • Dry Skin
    • More Emotional
  • Weakness
  • Moderate to Extreme Fatigue
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Discomfort during Sex
  • Infertility
  • Lower Self –esteem
  • Fragile and Thinner Bones – get plenty of calcium and vitamin D to help with this.
  • If a piece of colon is removed, the 2 ends that remain may be sewn back together. If they can’t be, “the top end of the colon is attached to an opening in the skin of the abdomen to allow body wastes to get out. This is known as a colostomy.” [2]
  • Metastatic spread of cancer.

Also, if you do elect for ovarian cancer surgery, get a highly rated gynecological oncologist to be your surgeon. In fact, “studies have shown that women who have their surgeries performed by a gynecologic oncologist are more likely to be successfully treated with surgery and have fewer side effects.” [3]

And before you get surgery, chemo, or radiation, get a second opinion (or third or fourth).

Many times, especially if it’s caught early, cancer can be turned around with lifestyles changes instead of using surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.

And consequently, cancer is very over-diagnosed, so it’s very important you get more than one opinion.

As I said above, it’s important you make a decision that you feel comfortable with. Not one that you have been pressured into.

The examples above are far from comprehensive for all cancer types, so please get as much information as possible. We only recommend surgery in immediate life-threatening situations.

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