After surgery to treat breast cancer, 25-45% of women develop chronic and often severe breast pain due to damaged nerves. Fellowship-trained peripheral nerve surgeon Anthony Echo, MD, encourages women to seek early treatment for ongoing breast pain, giving them the best chance to obtain significant pain relief from microsurgery to reroute the nerves. To learn if you’re a good candidate for surgery for breast pain, book an appointment online or call the office in Houston Methodist Hospital or the Willowbrook neighborhood of Houston, Texas.
It’s normal and expected to have breast pain after surgery to treat breast cancer. Some women, however, develop severe breast pain that lasts for months and becomes chronic, a condition called post-mastectomy pain syndrome.
Despite its name, you can develop the same pain after a lumpectomy, especially if the axillary lymph nodes were removed. Your risk of developing post-mastectomy pain syndrome also increases if you have radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy.
Post-mastectomy pain syndrome often occurs because sensory nerves on the outer portion of the breast are cut during a mastectomy. After the nerves are cut, the ends of the nerves turn into a ball of hypersensitive nerve tissue called a neuroma. As a result, you experience pain.
The classic symptoms include severe pain and tingling in your armpit, shoulder, and chest. However, you may experience numbness, a burning pain, or unrelenting itching. Many women also develop loss of movement in their shoulders and upper arm.
When a neuroma develops, women typically experience stabbing pain when they press on the area where the neuroma is located. These spots are typically found in the outer portion of the breast along the rib cage
During your consultation, Dr. Echo performs a comprehensive physical examination and evaluates your symptoms. Your initial treatment may include non-surgical options such as physical therapy, relaxation exercises, acupuncture, or transcutaneous nerve stimulation.
Some women get relief from topical medications such as a lidocaine patch. When your pain doesn’t improve, Dr. Echo performs a diagnostic nerve block, injecting a local anesthetic at the spot of each neuroma. If the numbing medication improves your pain, then it means that surgery for breast pain is an option.
During surgery for breast pain, Dr. Echo makes an incision over each neuroma, identifies the nerves, removes the nerve endings, and then reroutes the nerves into a nearby muscle. Placing the nerves into the muscle prevents the regrowth of another neuroma.
If you had breast reconstruction with an implant, Dr. Echo temporarily removes the implant to perform your nerve surgery.
Most women experience significant pain relief following their breast pain surgery. However, some will have little to no improvement if the pain is caused by several neuromas or the pain has been longstanding.
If you have post-mastectomy breast pain and want surgery to resolve it, call Anthony Echo, MD, or schedule an appointment online today.