Is it normal to have pain after breast surgery? I had a mastectomy two years ago. How can I cope?

Answer From Sandhya Pruthi, M.D.

You're not alone in having pain after breast surgery. Studies of women who had a variety of breast cancer operations found that between 25 and 60 percent reported some level of pain or sensations after breast surgery.

Breast cancer surgery requires that some nerves in the breast be cut. This can lead to:

  • Pain that feels like it's happening in the breast that's been removed (phantom breast pain)
  • Being super sensitive to pain (hyperalgesia)
  • Painless stimuli, such as clothing touching the area, might be perceived as painful (allodynia)
  • Abnormal nerve growths in the area where scar tissue and nerves grow together (neuromas)
  • Sensations of burning, constricting or stabbing-type pain
  • Loss of feeling or numbness in the area of the surgery

Treatment for breast pain after surgery depends on the type and severity of pain you're experiencing. Treatment options might include:

  • Medications, including over-the-counter or prescription pain medications, such as painkillers, drugs used to treat depression and drugs used to prevent seizures
  • Skin creams with medicine that may help control pain, such as capsaicin
  • Injections of pain medicines or other substances that can control nerve pain
  • Surgery to remove a neuroma or to revise a surgical scar that's causing pain
  • Physical therapy to strengthen muscles and improve mobility in your shoulder
  • Complementary therapies, such as acupuncture or biofeedback

Talk with your doctor about what may offer you the most relief.

Dec. 07, 2022