A List of Possible Mastectomy Complications

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If your healthcare provider has recommended a mastectomy, or you are considering this surgery, you may have questions or concerns about potential complications you may experience. Or, you may already have had a mastectomy and wonder how long a particular issue will continue.

Medical treatment can improve some complications, but others may never go away. Your healthcare team will help you understand your risk for complications before surgery.

This article discusses common short and long-term mastectomy complications.

Woman undergoing cancer treatment

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Healthcare providers do not have a universal, agreed-upon system for identifying and classifying surgical complications. However, many professional groups work together to establish quality and safety tracking. Over time, more should be undertstood regarding surgical complication rates.

Common Mastectomy Complications

The rate, frequency, and severity of mastectomy (surgical removal of the breast) complications can vary depending on the type of surgery you have. The choice to have breast reconstruction may also affect your risk level. Be sure to talk with your provider about your health condition to learn more about what you may experience.

Short-Term Complications

Short-term complications range from pain and bleeding to infection. Complications vary from person to person and may include:

  • Pain is a common outcome of most surgical procedures. In a mastectomy, skin and underlying tissues are cut, and local inflammation is normal. Surgical drains and dressings may add to the pain. Your surgeon will prepare a pain management plan for you.
  • Bleeding happens to some degree with surgical procedures. The surgeon works to stop significant bleeding, but you may experience some blood loss or oozing that continues after surgery. A blood transfusion may be needed if you lose too much blood.
  • Blood clots sometimes called deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can occur. Your team may recommend support stockings, walking, and even medications to help reduce your risk.
  • Bruising (hematoma) can also appear in your surgical area. A hematoma is a larger amount of blood than a bruise and often causes swelling. It may need to be drained if it becomes too large.
  • Infection is a risk, and you may receive antibiotics before, during, or after surgery to prevent it. If you have a medical condition or take medications that weaken your immune system, be sure your providers know before surgery starts.

Be sure your provider knows about all medications and supplements you have been taking. These can change how much your blood clots or how likely you are to bleed with surgery.

Long-Term Complications

You may or may not have long-term complications after mastectomy. However, some people develop complications months or years after their surgery. Like short-term complications, the risks of these issues vary from person to person.

  • Breast seromas are small fluid collections that can develop in the breast after surgery. They are the most common complication of mastectomy and lymph node removal and can result in pain, healing issues, and delay additional cancer treatments.
  • Pain after mastectomy can last a long time for 20% to 50% of people. If the pain lasts longer than three months, you may have postmastectomy pain syndrome (PMPS). Chest, arm, and underarm (armpit) pain can all occur, and the pain is often described as dull, aching, or burning.
  • Nerve damage may occur from the surgery if some nerves are cut, and the damage to them can cause painful neuropathy. The nerves may grow abnormally and scar, resulting in a neuroma (a painful growth of nerve tissue).
  • Surgical scars may vary depending on the surgery and how your body heals—some report experiencing chest tightness or difficulty moving their arms. About 35% of women experience pain from their scar, and 35% report changes to their ability to feel (sensation) in the breast.
  • Lymphedema is swelling that occurs after breast cancer surgery. It can be due to the removal of lymph nodes or develop later if scar tissue blocks fluid flow. It can occur briefly after surgery or may continue for years. Approximately 10% to 30% of people develop lymphedema two years after treatment. Active lymphedema may decrease arm movement and function for some people.
  • Wound healing complications can occur in the short and long term but seem to vary with the type of surgery. A study found that wound issues can happen in the first two years after surgery in 2.3% of women who did not have breast reconstruction, 4.4% of women who received breast implants, and 9.5% of those who had body tissue reconstruction.

Mastectomy complications can negatively affect a person's mood, sleep, activities, and social relationships. Consider seeking assistance from a therapist or counselor who can help you work through the complications.

Factors That May Influence Complications 

Many factors may impact your risk of complications with a mastectomy. Your providers will review your medical history before surgery. Be sure they are aware of any health issues you have and any medications and supplements you are taking. Your healthcare providers will also explain the intended benefits of surgery and discuss possible complications with you.

Radiation vs. Chemotherapy

Many breast cancer treatment plans involve radiation and/or chemotherapy. Both of these can alter the risks of mastectomy complications. In general, radiation therapy may increase your risk for:

  • PMPS
  • Lymphedema
  • Tissue loss
  • Infection

Chemotherapy may increase your risk for:

  • Lymphedema
  • Seroma
  • Surgical site infections

Chemotherapy medications, doses, type of radiation, and timing will affect your risk factors. Be sure to speak to your team to understand your treatment plan, potential risks, and anticipated benefits.

Type of Mastectomy

There are different kinds of mastectomy surgeries, and they have different benefits and risks. Your surgeon and the rest of your medical team will help you to understand what is recommended for you and discuss potential complications of the procedure with you ahead of time.

Overall, the risk of complications is higher if you have the following:

  • Immediate reconstruction
  • Bilateral (both breasts) reconstruction
  • Received chemotherapy
  • Received radiation therapy

The more extensive the surgery, the higher the risk of developing a breast seroma.


Smoking can increase the risk of breast surgery by up to 40%. They recommend quitting four to six weeks before surgery and avoiding tobacco for at least another four weeks after surgery. If you can, quit smoking permanently.

Providers to Turn to After Mastectomy 

If you develop mastectomy complications, some medical professionals may be able to help you heal and regain function.

Physical therapists and occupational therapists can help you regain strength, flexibility, and mobility. They can also help you adapt to long-term body changes or manage conditions like lymphedema.

Pain specialists can help you develop a pain management plan if you have PMPS or other chronic pain.

Some people need additional surgery to help reverse or repair mastectomy complications. It may be possible to receive treatment from your original surgeon, or you may be referred to a different provider.

Speak with your healthcare team if you have any questions or concerns about complications and possible treatments to improve your health.


Mastectomy is a common treatment for breast cancer. However, like all surgery, there are some risks of developing complications. It is normal to have some bleeding, bruising, or pain for a few days after surgery. However, some people face other difficulties for months or years. Research continues to shed light on who is at risk for complications, how to prevent them, and how to deal with them if they happen.

A Word From Verywell 

Any kind of surgery can be scary to think about. But understanding the possible aftereffects of surgery and your general risk level for those things might help calm your mind. Your healthcare team is experienced in teaching you about the potential surgery and answering questions about what might happen. Be sure to lean on your team and ask as many questions as needed to feel prepared to decide on your cancer treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does postmastectomy pain last?

    Typically, postoperative pain lasts a few days to a week. Some people develop chronic postmastectomy pain syndrome (PSMS). If you are concerned about the amount of pain or how long it lasts, be sure to speak with your provider.

  • Is mastectomy surgery dangerous?

    All surgery has some risks. Your provider will typically discuss the goals and expected outcomes of the procedure. They will also review the possible risks of the surgery—those typical for all surgical procedures and any specific to your situation. Together, you can decide how to best care for your health.

  • How long should you expect to wear drains after mastectomy?

    Typically, surgical drains are left in place until the fluid slows down. Output is normally measured over 24 hours. In many cases, your drains will come out within about a week. Your surgeon will guide you on how long you need drains after surgery.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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