Chronic Pain Lingers For Some Postoperative Breast Cancer Patients

Chronic Neuropathic Pain Postoperative Breast Cancer

Different surgical procedures come with varying levels of risk for post-surgical pain during the healing process. Regardless of the surgery type, postoperative pain is not uncommon. For women who undergo surgery to treat breast cancer, however, postoperative pain and/or numbness can greatly affect a patient’s quality of life. This pain, which can be encountered after a mastectomy, is characterized by a constant, achy, stinging, burning sensation around the surgical area near the chest or underarms.

 Before having surgery to remove cancerous breast tumors, women typically undergo what’s called a sentinel lymph node biopsy. Sentinel lymph nodes, as described by the National Cancer Institute are, “the first lymph node(s) to which cancer cells are most likely to spread from a primary tumor.” Chronic underarm pain after surgery (as opposed to chest pain) is more common among women who have had their lymph nodes removed rather than a sentinel lymph node biopsy alone.

Often, chronic pain among breast cancer patients is related to nerve damage that occurs via surgical and/or radiation treatment. Although the painful side effects from surgery typically subside in 3 months for most women, some women experience pain for months or even years after treatment.

To ease the recovery process after surgery, physicians often treat patients with postoperative pain with a multi-modal approach including physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, neuropathic pain medications, and sometimes narcotics. Alternative techniques such as massage and acupuncture can also help reduce pain and tenderness for some patients.

Interventional Pain Physicians can also help to reduce this pain via injections, including thoracic epidurals and intercostal nerve blocks. Both of these involve placing local anesthetic and steroid around the nerves, which stabilizes cell membranes and decreases inflammation and swelling. Doing so helps to decrease ectopic neural discharge and thus provide pain relief.

About Josephine Clingan MD, Physician Pain Specialists at Saint Joseph’s Hospital:
After attending MCG Medical School, Dr. Clingan completed  both her residency in Anesthesiology, and her fellowship in Interventional Pain Management at St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.
She joined Physician Pain Specialists, at Saint Joseph’s Hospital, in 2011 and loves her patients!

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