This study assessed pain, neurological symptoms, oedema of the ipsilateral arm, anxiety and depression occurring in women treated surgically for breast cancer, the impact of these symptoms on daily life and how they evolved during the 1 year follow-up. Ninety-three consecutive patients with non-metastasised breast cancer who were treated during 1993-94 were examined before surgery and after 1, 6 and 12 months. They were asked about pain, neurological symptoms and oedema in the breast scar region and/or ipsilateral arm. Sensory testing was performed, and gripping force and the circumference of the arm were measured. Anxiety and depression were evaluated. One year after surgery, 80% of the women had treatment-related symptoms in the breast scar region and virtually all patients had symptoms in the ipsilateral arm. The incidence of chronic post-treatment pain was higher after conservative surgery than after radical surgery (breast area: 33% vs 17%, NS; ipsilateral arm: 23% vs 13%, NS). Numbness occurred in 75% and oedema of the ipsilateral arm in over 30% of the patients after both radical and conservative surgery. Phantom sensations in the breast were reported by 25% of the patients. No difference in psychic morbidity was detected after the two types of surgery. Both the anxiety and depression scores were highest before surgery, decreasing with time, and were significantly correlated with preoperative stressful events.