It’s common to have pain associated with cancer before you have a mastectomy. But not many people realize that you may also experience persistent pain after having surgery. And this pain may be noticeably different from typical post-surgery pain. In cases like this, you may be dealing with post-mastectomy pain syndrome (PMPS).
What Is PMPS?
Post-mastectomy pain syndrome is defined as chronic breast pain that lasts at least three months after surgery for breast cancer. This nerve pain can show in a number of ways and may not even start until up to six months after surgery. Usually, PMPS pain is in the underside of the arms or the upper chest, and it can cause shooting or burning pains.
Unfortunately, PMPS affects as many as 20–40 percent of women who have had a mastectomy. Post-mastectomy pain syndrome may resolve itself after several months, but for up to half of women suffering from PMPS, it never goes away. Not all doctors and surgeons know about or understand PMPS. As such, it’s possible to not get the information you need about this syndrome before your surgery.
What Causes Post-Mastectomy Pain Syndrome?
There are several possible causes for post-mastectomy pain syndrome, though no one has positively identified exactly what leads to it. The most common theory is that the mastectomy or even a lumpectomy causes damage to the intercostobrachial nerve in the chest wall. This nerve tissue goes from the outside edge of the breast to the underside of the arm, which is people usually feel PMPS pain. The formation of scar tissue around the nerves in this area can also cause neuropathic pain by repeatedly irritating the nerves in that area.
What Increases Risk of PMPS?
While there is no way to definitively say who will or will not get PMPS, there are some risk factors that have been found. If you have undergone chemotherapy or radiation treatment after your surgery, this can significantly increase your risk to develop PMPS.
In addition, the larger the tumor, being removed the likelier you are to get PMPS. Those who are younger are also at higher risk. Surgeries with a higher risk of nerve damage, such as lumps near the underarm, come with a higher risk of the post-mastectomy chronic pain.
What Is the Best Treatment for Post-Mastectomy Pain Syndrome?
Initial treatment for post-mastectomy pain syndrome generally starts with the regular use of ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. By reducing the swelling, these drugs can take pressure off of nerves and lessen PMPS pain.
Steroid injections or local anesthetic can be helpful for those with pain that is centered around the scar. Topical anesthetics can also be used to help alleviate pain caused by to PMPS. In severe cases, a nerve block may be used. Some people find relief with non-drug treatments, such as reflexology, massage therapy, and acupuncture. Counseling is beneficial for those dealing with post-mastectomy pain syndrome, as it helps with the psychological aspects of this chronic condition.
Dealing with cancer is difficult, and post-mastectomy pain syndrome shows that there is no easy solution. Use this information to make an informed choices that’s right for you, and if you are living with PMPS, know that help is out there. Consult with your doctor to find the best PMPS treatments to suit your unique needs.
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