After having breast cancer surgery and axillary dissection (removal of lymph nodes), some women have problems with nerve (neuropathic) pain. In most cases this settles over a few weeks. However, in some instances these symptoms may not resolve so easily. This is called post-mastectomy pain syndrome (PMPS) because it was first noticed in women who had mastectomies, but it can also happen after other types of breast conserving surgery (such as a lumpectomy).
The classic symptoms of PMPS are pain and tingling in the chest wall, armpit, and/or arm. Pain may also be felt in the shoulder or surgical scar. Other common complaints include numbness, shooting or pricking pain, or unbearable itching. Most women with PMPS say their symptoms are not severe.
Studies have shown that between 20% and 30% of women develop symptoms of PMPS after surgery. It's most common after operations that remove tissue in the upper outside portion of the breast or the underarm area. It also appears to be more common in younger women, and in women who have more extensive surgery in the axilla such as when all the lymph nodes are removed (ALND).
At NBBC our surgeons monitor their patients carefully for any indications of PMPS and make sure the patients are receiving the care and support they need in their recovery. In our allied health team, our osteopath and acupuncturist work together to reduce the symptoms and side effects of PMPS. Osteopathy addressed the cause of the issue, working to free any scar tissue or adhesions which can be impeding the path of the nerve. Acupuncture meanwhile can be very effective at relieving any pain or numbness and encouraging the condition to finally settle.