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Breast cancer pain is real: Let's address it


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Many women with breast cancer experience pain before, during or even after treatment. While it’s normal to be concerned about pain, every woman should know that relief is available.

Cancer pain can be caused by the tumor itself or by the tumor growing onto adjacent nerves or other structures. Pain also can occur as a side effect of treatment, like surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy

Nerve damage during treatment can lead to neuropathy, which causes weakness, numbness and pain, typically in the hands and feet.

Some women may continue to experience pain from surgery beyond their expected healing time.  Post-mastectomy pain syndrome is common among women who’ve undergone surgery to remove breast tissue. Women often describe this pain as burning or sharp, and they can experience sensitivity along the incision.

Pain from post-mastectomy pain syndrome can radiate from the surgical site to other areas, including the neck, arm and shoulder.

In our Pain Clinic, I recently worked with a 50-year-old woman who had a mastectomy in the last year. She was experiencing pain along her healed incisions and across her chest.

She also had increased sensitivity to her arm pit area, which radiated across chest and came with burning and constant aching. Her post-surgery pain may have been due to scarring of the chest wall nerves and/or neuropathy from past chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatments.

Before coming to me for pain management, this patient was anxious and depressed. She also had trouble sleeping. As a pain specialist, I introduced her to different options for pain management at CTCA. Together, we looked at acupuncture, massage, physical therapy, exercise and medication.

Along with these therapies, she chose to undergo a minimally invasive pain block procedure. 

Integrative oncology services should be part of every patient’s pain management treatment plan and tailored to their individual needs. The goal of pain management is to improve your quality of life. Breast cancer patients, in particular, should know that they don’t have to live with pain.

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