Saturday, April 21, 2012

Let's Talk About Normal Pain After Breast Cancer Treatment

I’ve had lingering pain from cancer treatment—nothing horrible, but enough to cause me concern.  Recently, I heard from a reader who was worried about bone pain in the chest area—she was sure it was a recurrence.  I told her I’d had the same pain and it eventually went away, but she was worried until she had a bone scan that came back clear.

Bless our hearts, we all do this.  Feel a pain, panic, talk ourselves out of that panic, then back into it.  Get tested.  Regret the test.  Delight in the results.

You know the drill.  So I am starting a discussion about pain, in the hopes that we can share a bit of what we have been through and shed some light on what is normal after treatment.

About half of all breast cancer patients have pain following treatment.  

My pains:

• In the chest bone, most likely from radiation.  My surgeon told me not to worry unless the pain woke me up at night.  This never got that bad—in fact in came and went and was mostly a moderate and dull ache.  It has since gone—it lasted about three years. Of course, if you Google “bone pain in breast bone,” you will immediately get to a site dealing with cancer metastases.  Sheesh.  So don’t Google it.

• Around my surgery site.  Even after nearly six years, my surgery still hurts—sometimes a shooting pain, sometimes a dull ache, sometimes nothing at all.  The breast has nerves than can be cut in surgery; they will not recover.  This pain comes less often than it used to, but it still pops up.

Lymphedema, or pain in the armpit. I have only slight pain here—perhaps because I assiduously did exercises from Thriving After Breast Cancer by Sherry Lebed Davis. Still, this is common and normal. has a good discussion on how to deal with pain related to cancer treatment. 

What’s important, though, is that you understand that some pain is natural and it does not mean that the disease is recurring.  And the more we share what we’ve been through, the more we understand our new normal.

For more information on TNBC, check out my book, Surviving Triple-Negative Breast Cancer.  You can get a free signed copy just by donating $25 to this site.  Click the Donate button on the right to donate through PayPal.   You'll then get an email from me asking how you want your book signed and where you want it sent.  Thanks!  And hugs.


Sue in Italia/In the Land Of Cancer said...

I've had a dull ache in one of my ribs right below the breast. Yep it worries me but the pain, not severe at all, comes and goes. If it were 'something', it would be more constant and become worse. I assume it is radiation and/or surgical damage to the nerves that cause them to perceive pain that really isn't there. I used to have sharp stabbing pains in the affected breast that came and went. Again nerve damage. But it is scary. Always in the back of my mind, could this be a recurrence? And my silly insurance will not cover any tests until I reach a $3000 threshhold..

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I too have had shooting pains in the breast that come out of the blue - just nerves knitting. Then pain in the ribs that comes and goes - sometimes wakes me up, but again if it were there all the time I'd be more concerned. Hardness of the breast with the pain of solidness was checked out with an ultra-sound and caused by a small bubble of fluid on the surgery site - too small to worry about, so I'm not. I can't spend the next five years worrying about what might happen - time to get on with life and LIVE!

zeenat said...

Thank you for this writeup! Makes me feel less crazy!

Kim said...

Thank you for taking on the challenge of discussing pain after cancer treatment. I, like so many others, continue to struggle with a variety of body pains. I have found gentle stretching and sauna/hot tub has helped with the deeper bone aches/pain. (I use the sauna/hot tub with caution d/t lymphedema...but so far, not an issue.) Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Thank you! This makes me feel less like a hypochondriac :)
I have a dull ache in my rib below the breast too - I was told it was likely arthritis caused by radiation. It makes me think I have a new tumor in my liver or something. I also have pain in my armpit, which always makes me think I have a recurrence! There are all kinds of aches and pains on the right side of my body. I am always asking my oncologist about them, and they are always just leftovers from treatment (especially side effects of radiation- one of my doctors calls it "the gift that keeps on giving") I have to practice yoga to have a good quality of life. That isn't such a bad thing.
Survivor of TNBC, 3 years!

Marilyn Amstutz said...

Thank you for the blog and everyone else for your comments! Misery loves company! I'm glad to know I'm not the only one dealing with pain similar to what you all are describing.
My doctor is not worried, so I'm not worried. (Much. You know!)

jojo said...

My doctor did a great thing for me. At the end of treatment she told me I would experience aches and pains that would scare me. She said, in general, the pain of cancer doesn't come and go; it gets progressively worse. She said every time I had a scary pain to write it down on my calendar. If after two weeks the pain was still bothering me I should give her a call. It has worked really well for me. Pains come and go but nothing has gotten worse over a two week period. It is a very positive way for me to deal with the fear.

Anonymous said...

I feel pain in the rib under my breast and in the middle of my chest ONLY when I touch it, lightly press in those areas. Does anyone else experience this?

Anonymous said...

I had breast cancer 4 years ago and a hysterectomy, so I suffer early menopause and immense pain in my bones! However I get pain in my right side under my breat and around the bottom of my shoulder blade! I am thinking of getting it checked out but don't want to be told the cancer has come back and a secondary cancer moved to my liver or lungs or something! Also the last few weeks I am getting pain when I swallow which is like a heartburn pain and now I am really worried. I know I got to go but it's so scary!!!! This page makes you feel better what a brill idea, but you always think what if! I am going to contact my surgeon Monday and request a scan/ x-ray or something to put my mind at rest. X angie

suzanne bethurum said...

Thanks for this post ... been there, absolutely done that! All started with a stupid commercial where a woman felt a pea-sized lump on her breast ... my hand (instinctively) flew to my breast where I'd had a lumpectomy just over five years ago. In feeling the scar tissue, I noted a small pea-sized lump, that I OF COURSE pressed on to see if that was what I was really feeling! After that I had all kinds of "nerve pains" in my breast ... warming sensations, sharp pains, etc. I talked to my oncologist about it and she said it is probably just nerve pain, but I couldn't let it go. So, I had a mammogram, along with the new 3D technology, that showed nothing. They compared the results to my last four mammograms (taken every six months). I personally think I "zapped" something when I pressed on that scar tissue that exacerbated the nerves. Reading this blog made me feel a whole lot better. So again, thank you!!!

Dee Kay said...

Thanks to everyone else who has posted on this site..... rib pain and shooting breast pains have me searching for lumps but to hear that these are normal responses to surgery and radiotherapy is very reassuring. I am currently four and a half years on from diagnosis of triple negative. Happy and healthy New Year to you all!!

Noleen said...

Thank you so much for this. I was diagnosed just over a year ago - stage 2 and did the surgery, chemo and radiation. Spent the last 2 months with tests due to finding another lump in my breast. Googling at least got me to your page :-). I am still on maintenance of Herceptin (still 8 more treatments) and started having these real sharp pains in my left side of my chest. I am glad to hear it's a common side effect.