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.
• 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.
Breastcancer.org 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.
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..
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!
Thank you for this writeup! Makes me feel less crazy!
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!
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!
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!)
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.
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?
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
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!!!
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!!
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.
I have had breast cancer on my left side about 1.5 years again I'm getting pains at 3 o'clock in my breast and now I'm getting craps/stitch from just below my breast to just under my arm pit what would this be ??
Hi Andrea, did you have radiation? Were your Lymph glands removed? I have pain similar to yours but due to my body being battered for 2 years now that the cortisone and other chemicals are working it's way out, I am feeling more and more pain throughout my body. It's just starting to heal. My last Herceptin was in May and end of my almost 2 year process.
Andrea, I agree with Noleen that this is likely a reaction to the radiation. It could also be nerve damage from surgery. These do tend to get better after time, as does the tendency to worry. Hugs.
Thank you for this blog post. I had chemo and radiation about 4 years ago for stage 2 BC. The past 6 months there has been rib pain and tenderness (on either side) and my back aches when I lay down at times but not during the day. I had a thermal image scan done but nothing showed up on the ribs and only a small spot on the spine which is the same as was what was there four years ago.
I have been quite worried about the pains and tenderness. It comes and goes and if I wear a bra that is a little bit tight it becomes uncomfortable as the day wears on. I'd love to have an MRI but my oncologist won't let me one even if I pay for it. At least the thermal image gives some peace of mind even if the doctors don't put much faith in it because it is not a recommended scan.
I had no idea that radiation could cause this type of pain until now and it is a relief to know others have it and it is a side effect. I take a silica supplement & Vit D as I do not eat any dairy or take calcium supplements. The pain is a reminder to me, to try and stay on track with my juices and eating a really clean diet although it can be difficult to not fall off the track with zero family support and all the crap food like yummies that surround and bombard us every day.
Thank you all. I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, had surgery, chemo and radiation. The oncologist placed me on letrozole tablets and calcium tablets daily. Calcium is very surgary and sugar feeds cancer cells. C an anyone help me on what to do?
I was diagnosed with breast cancer about a year ago, had surgeries, chemo and radiation. I was placed on letrozole and calium and alendronic acid because my bone scan shows weakness of the bone mass. T he chewable calcium I was given is very sugary and I also know that sugar feeds cancer cells, what can I do?
That amount of sugar should be fine. Generally, stay away from foods with high sugar content, such as cakes and candies, but you can't eliminate sugar altogether. If you're worried, though, talk to your doc about a substitute. But if that' form of calcium is best for you to rebuild bone mass, focus on that benefit and not the sugar.
Hi, had lumpectomy and radiation nine and a half years ago followed by 5 years of tamoxifen. Over the past 3 or 4 weeks I have been getting tenderness on and around my lumpectomy scar. Anybody else with this problem. No tenderness any other time.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer stage 2 positive to estrogen, had lumpectomy and a healthy Lymph node was taken half year ago. I refused to do radiation and refused to take Tamoxifen.i changed my diet and eat mostly lots Broccoli sprouts and other kinds of sprouts, eat little amount of fruits, nuts, beans, brown rice and gave up all meat, milk and sugar of all kinds.
A month ago i started to feel deep back pain, that leads towards my shoulder and rib bone and couldn't sleep at night well. I started to become very Anxiety and got fears that i am having a bone cancer. 2 nights ago during a panic attack i found a body brash with horse hair and i brushed my body all over and especially in the surgery area and the pain completely disappeared. Since than i brash myself few time a day and it feels wonderful.
there is a big relief for me and reading this blog is enlightening.
Thank you for this wonderful blog
I was diagnosed with stage 4 to my liver in 2015. I did chemo but no surgery. I always have pains in my liver and breast. Is this normal ? I get a PET scan in two weeks
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