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What Causes Chronic Post Mastectomy Pain?

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Updated June 13, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What Post-Mastectomy Pain Is:

Post-mastectomy pain, also known as post-mastectomy pain syndrome (PMPS), is a type of chronic postoperative pain.

PMPS is pain that persists after a mastectomy or other type of breast surgery is performed. Procedures that may lead to post-mastectomy pain include total mastectomy, partial mastectomy, lumpectomy and even breast reconstruction.

Causes of Post-Mastectomy Pain:

Post-mastectomy pain is often neuropathic, meaning it is usually caused by nerve damage. Most researchers assume post-mastectomy pain is caused by damage to the nerves in the breast and underarm area, or the development of a neuroma (an abnormal nerve tissue growth) .

Another possible cause of post-mastectomy pain under investigation is the formation of a hematoma during surgery.

Symptoms of Post-Mastectomy Pain:

Post-mastectomy pain can cause numbness, a burning pain, or a dull ache. The pain may be present in the chest area (near where the breast was operated on) as well as the armpit and arm on the operated side. It is often worse when you move the shoulder on the affected side. Post-mastectomy pain may also increase when pressure is applied to the area.

The degree of pain varies from woman to woman, ranging from mild to severe.

Treating Post-Mastectomy Pain:

Post-mastectomy pain may be treated with a variety of medication, including: Opioids may also be used to treat chronic post-mastectomy pain in cases where other medications are not effective.

Other options for treating post-mastectomy pain include:

Support for Post-Mastectomy Pain:

If you or someone you know suffers from post-mastectomy pain, you are not alone. Talking can help, and there are several communities online with members who know exactly what you are going through.

Not sure where to start? Check out About.com's chronic pain forum and the breast cancer forum.

Sources:

Blunta Cornelia and Schmiedel Angelika. Some Cases of Severe Post-mastectomy Pain Syndrome May be Caused by an Axillary Haematoma. Pain. Volume 108, Issue 3, Pages 294-296 (April 2004)

Macdonald L, Bruce J, Scott NW et al. Long-term Follow-up of Breast Cancer Survivors with Post-mastectomy Pain Syndrome. British Journal of Cancer. 2005 January 31; 92(2): 225–230

Vilholm OJ, Cold S, Rasmussen L and Sindrup SH. The Postmastectomy Pain Syndrome: An Epidemiological Study on the Prevalence of Chronic Pain After Surgery for Breast Cancer. British Journal of Cancer. 2008 August 19; 99(4): 604–610.

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