Chronic Pain After Breast Cancer Surgery
Study Shows Nearly Half of Patients Report Pain 2 Years After Surgery
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Younger Cancer Patients Most at Risk continued...
"It's not constant pain, but it can be annoying and frustrating," McClusky
tells WebMD. "Sometimes it's a shooting pain and other times it's an itch that
you can't get to."
Women in the study who had axillary lymph node dissection were almost twice
as likely to have pain following surgery and five times as likely to have
sensory disturbances than women who had sentinel node dissection, in which
usually just one or a few of lymph nodes are removed to check for cancer
instead of 10 or more.
The researchers conclude that the cause of most chronic pain following breast
cancer treatment is injury to key nerves during surgery.
"We confirmed that nerve damage is a major contributor to chronic pain,"
study co-researcher Henrik Kehlet, MD, PhD, tells WebMD. "This emphasizes the
need to find more delicate surgical techniques to avoid nerve damage."
Sentinel Node Dissection 'Easier on Patients'
Breast cancer specialist Loretta S. Loftus, MD, MBA, of H. Lee Moffitt
Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., tells WebMD that more and more surgeons are
opting for sentinel node dissection because recovery time is much shorter and
there is less chance of nerve damage.
"It is just much easier on patients," she says. "Women who have sentinel
node dissection tend to be in and out of the hospital pretty quickly."
Loftus says doctors often fail to ask their patients about pain and patients
often don't report it.
"At Moffitt, in our clinic, it's routine to ask every patient if they are
experiencing pain when they enter the exam room," she says.
When facing her own decisions about treatment, Schneider was determined to
be as aggressive as possible, in part because her mother died of the disease at
the age of 61.
But she now regrets having the axillary procedure instead of the less
invasive sentinel dissection, which was an option for her.
"I would tell anyone to ask a lot of questions and learn all they can if
axillary dissection is suggested," she says.