Surgery side effects

The side effects associated with surgery will depend on the type of surgery that you have.

Your surgeon will explain what to expect before you have the operation and check that you understand the effects. Sometimes the extent of your surgery will depend on what they find during the operation, when they can see the cancer. Ask as many questions as you need to. You can talk to other people on your care team too.

Changes to your body

When you have surgery for cancer, it might leave you with permanent changes to your body. This depends on what kind of cancer you have and what your operation involved. Having a scar is common.

Here are a few tips:

  • Remember, scars always look worse straight after surgery when they are red and obvious. They often fade with time
  • Scarring can be difficult to accept and adjust to. If you feel low in confidence about your appearance because of scarring, think about speaking to a psychologist or counsellor (speak to your care team about this)
  • Skin camouflage products and services to help cover up scars are available. Speak to a member of your care team about how to access them, or contact the charity Changing Faces.

Sometimes the lasting effects of surgery might be really hard to come to terms with. You will get lots of support from your care team before and after your operation. 

Pain and infection

You may experience some pain in the area that was operated on, but you should be given painkillers to reduce this. Talk to somebody in your care team if you are still uncomfortable.

You may also be given antibiotics to prevent infection to the wound, and be taught breathing and leg exercises to reduce the risk of chest infections and blood clots.

For more information about the surgery and side-effects associated with the treatment of your particular type of cancer, see the types of cancer section.

Updated December 2014, next planned review 2017.

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