Persistent Pain Common After Breast Cancer Surgery

Posted on November 16th, 2009 by

Two to three years after breast cancer surgery, persistent pain continues to affect close to half of all women. The results of this study, which was conducted in Denmark, were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Surgery for breast cancer generally involves either breast-conserving surgery (also known as a lumpectomy) or mastectomy. In addition, in order to determine whether cancer has spread to the axillary (under-the-arm) lymph nodes, women often undergo an axillary lymph node dissection (removal of many lymph nodes) or a sentinel lymph node biopsy (removal of only a small number of nodes or even a single node).

Previous reports suggest that some women experience persistent pain following breast cancer surgery. In order to evaluate the frequency and predictors of persistent pain, researchers in Denmark conducted a study among 3,754 women who underwent surgery during 2005 and 2006. The women completed questionnaires about pain and sensory disturbance two to three years after their breast surgery.

  • 47% of women reported pain. Of the women who reported pain, 13% had severe pain, 39% had moderate pain, and 48% had mild pain.
  • Women were more likely to report pain if they were younger, had received radiation therapy, or had undergone an axillary lymph node dissection.
  • Of the women with pain, 20% had contacted a physician about the pain in the previous three months.

This study suggests that persistent pain remains a problem for many women following breast cancer surgery. The researchers note that it will be important to explore new approaches to the prevention and treatment of post-surgery pain.

Reference: Gartner R, Jensen M-B, Nielsen J, Ewertz M, Kroman N, Kehlet H. Prevalence of and factors associated with persistent pain following breast cancer surgery. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2009;302:1985-1992.

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