Breast Cancer Post-Op Pain

Breast cancer pain post surgery was common one year after treatment

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Once the treatment for cancer is completed, the pain should be over, right? Not so for many breast cancer patients, according to the authors of a new European study.

This study explored the prevalence and severity of pain one year after surgery to treat breast cancer.

The researchers found that over half of the patients experienced some amount of pain in the surgery area one year later.

"Talk to your doctor if pain is interrupting day-to-day activities."

According to the study's authors, led by Tuomo J. Meretoja, MD, PhD, of the Breast Surgery Unit at Helsinki University Central Hospital in Helsinki, Finland, pain after treatment for breast cancer is a big problem, but data is lacking on the nature of this pain.

To gain a better understanding about post-breast cancer surgery pain, these researchers explored the severity and prevalence of pain one year after treatment.

Dr. Meretoja and colleagues did so by following 860 breast cancer patients at the Helsinki University Central Hospital from 2006 to 2010.

The patients all were under the age of 75 and had nonmetastasized breast cancer — meaning the cancer had not spread to other parts of the body. The patients had all undergone surgery to treat the disease.

Prior to surgery, the patients rated their pain in the area to be operated on. Then 12 months after surgery, the patients completed a questionnaire that also rated their pain.

The study used a scale of zero to 10 to measure pain. A score of zero represented no pain, one to three was considered mild pain, four to six was considered moderate pain and seven or higher was considered severe pain.

At the 12 month mark, 34.5 percent of patients reported no pain, 49.7 percent reported mild pain, 12.1 percent reported moderate pain and 3.7 percent reported severe pain. In total, 65.5 percent of the breast cancer patients reported some amount of pain one year after their surgery.

"The factors significantly associated with pain at 12 months were chronic preoperative pain, preoperative pain in the area to be operated, preoperative depression, axillary lymph node dissection, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy," Dr. Meretoja and colleagues reported.

These researchers noted that their study did not closely investigate the type of persistent pain experienced 12 months after surgery — something that future studies will likely explore.

However, "[t]hese findings may be useful in developing strategies for preventing persistent pain following breast cancer treatment," Dr. Meretoja and colleagues wrote.

This study appears January 1 in JAMA.

Several of the study's authors reported involvement, including consulting, patents and paid lectures, with a variety of pharmaceutical companies, including Orion Pharma, Pfizer and Merck Sharp Dohm. The study was funded by a number of groups, including the Academy of Finland and the Orion-Pharmos Research Foundation.

Review Date: 
December 29, 2013
Last Updated:
January 1, 2014