What are the Side Effects of Surgery?

Potential complications during Surgery may be due to Surgery itself, the drugs used, and your general health. Broadly speaking, the more complicated the surgery, the higher the chance of side effects.

Minor Surgery and taking tissue samples (biopsies) are usually less risky than major Surgery. The most common issue is Pain at the Surgery site. Site infections and reaction due to opioid use, to calm the region (local anaesthesia) are also likely.

Some side effects may occur during and after Surgery. Usually, these side effects are not expected to be life-threatening. You may have:

  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Damage to nearby tissues
  • Drug reactions
  • Damage to other organs
  • Pain
  • Infections
  • Slow recovery of other body functions


Bleeding is part of any kind of Surgery and can be, usually, controlled. Bleeding may happen either within the body (internal) or outside the body (external). Bleeding may occur if a blood vessel has not been sealed during Surgery or if a wound is left open.

Doctors try to reduce the risk of bleeding by being very careful when working near blood vessels. They do look for other factors such as laboratory tests to make sure that a person’s blood will clot naturally. Serious bleeding may require another Surgery to find the source of the bleeding and stop it. This form of bleeding will also involve a blood transfusion to restore the blood that has been lost.

Blood clots:

Blood clots may form in the deep veins in the legs after surgery, especially if the patient stays in bed for a long time. Such a clot can become a major problem if it gets free and moves to another part of the body, such as the lungs. This is a big reason why you will be encouraged to get out of bed to sit, stand and walk as quickly as possible.

Damage to nearby tissues:

Internal organs and blood vessels may be damaged during Surgery. The doctors are extremely cautious to do as little damage as possible.

Damage to other organs:

Surgery may contribute to trouble with other organs, such as the lungs, heart, or kidneys. Such problems are very rare, but they can be life-threatening. People who already have problems with these organs are more likely to suffer. That’s why doctors get a complete medical history and do assessments to look for potential risks before Surgery is performed.

Drug reactions:

Some people have reactions to anaesthesia or other medicines that are used during Surgery. Although rare, they can be severe as they can cause dangerously low blood pressure. Your respiratory rate, heart rate, blood pressure, and other vitals will be closely monitored throughout the Surgery to prevent, detect, or correct this.


After surgery, nearly everybody has some suffering. Pain is normal, but you should not allow Pain to slow down your recovery. There are a variety of ways to cope with and overcome and manage surgical Pain. Medicines for Pain may range from acetaminophen (Tylenol) to anti-inflammatory drugs or more potent drugs such as morphine.


A few days before surgery, you may be advised to help avoid infection by using a special soap. This soap is especially good for destroying bacteria and can help prepare the skin for Surgery. This is one way you can help prevent the infection from occurring. Even though you do things like this before surgery, and the surgical team takes great precautions to minimize infection, infection at the location of the incision (cut) is a potential problem. Antibiotics, either as a pill or via a vein in your arm (IV), can treat most of the infections.

In patients with a decreased lung function, such as those who have chronic lung disease or those who smoke, lung infection (pneumonia) is particularly common. Deep breathing exercises after Surgery helps reduce this risk as soon as possible.

Other infections within the body could develop, in particular when the stomach, intestines or catheter were kept open during Surgery and while draining the urine. Surgeons and nurses monitor for infection and test for any temperature, skin or wound changes and try to stop it. But, antibiotics are required if this happens.

Slow recovery of other body functions:

Some body activities, such as bowel activity, can be slow to recover. Your level of energy can also decrease. After surgery, leaving bed as soon as possible can help reduce this risk.

Possible long-term side effects of cancer surgery

Long-term adverse reactions depend on the type of operation performed. You may want to ask if you are having Surgery on or around your reproductive organs about the effects on your ability to have a baby or father a child (fertility). Colorectal Cancer surgeries may require an aperture in the abdomen to which the colon end is attached (colostomy). A man with the removal of his prostate (radical prostatectomy) may lose control of the urine or become unable to obtain an erection or maintain it (impotence). The potential long-term impacts of Surgery should be discussed with the doctor before the procedure.

Can Surgery cause cancer to spread?

You might have heard that cancer Surgery can spread the cancer. It is very seldom that cancer spreads through Surgery. Progress in Surgery equipment and more detailed imagery tests contribute to a low risk. However, there are some crucial situations when this can occur. Physicians with considerable experience of cancer diagnosis and procedures are particularly vigilant to prevent these conditions.

In the past, bigger needles were used to grab a piece of the tumour (biopsy) to look at under a microscope. In those days, there was a likelihood of Biopsy spread or “seeding.” Nowadays, a tiny needle is used to remove a piece of the tissue (called a needle biopsy). The risk of a Biopsy that causes cancer to spread is very low with the smaller needles. However, a slight chance of this happening during a Biopsy is posed by some liver (hepatic), kidney(renal) and other tumours.

The so-called incisional biopsy, where a surgeon cuts the skin to remove a small portion of the tumour, can safely test many types of cancers. However, there are some exceptions, like some eyes or testicular tumours. Doctors can first treat these cancers without Biopsy or can advise that the whole tumour should be removed (resected), if the tumour is likely to be cancer. A needle Biopsy may also be used and the entire tumour is removed if it is shown to be cancer.

For some tumours, no needle biopsies can be used. The tumour may have to be removed partially or fully in these cases. Any types of tumours are at low risk of spreading cancer from the resection process. Parathyroid and gallbladder tumours, and some sarcomas are examples. Though, this only rarely happens, thanks to rapid advances in equipment and imaging techniques.

A common myth about cancer is that it spreads through Surgery when exposed to air. Some people may think so because after an operation they often feel worse than ever. But when you heal from surgery, it is common to feel this way. Another reason people may think this is true, because the doctor may find more cancer during Surgery than anticipated in scans and X-rays. This can occur, but it is not due to the Surgery – the cancer had already occurred – the tests that were carried out did not identify the tumours. The exposure of cancer to air has not spread it. You may harm yourself if you delay or refuse surgical procedure because of this myth.