Post Mastectomy Pain Syndrome

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For many breast cancer patients who undergo mastectomy or lumpectomy, pain persists for weeks after the surgery. (KFSN)

For many breast cancer patients who undergo mastectomy or lumpectomy, pain persists for weeks after the surgery. But for between twenty and thirty percent of those patients, the pain never goes away. However more and more doctors are finding ways to bring relief.

In October 2009, Lauren Gilbert was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer. A lumpectomy spared her breast and saved her life, but started a cycle of pain she was not prepared for.

"I called them zingers, where all of a sudden an electrical shock goes right though my breast from my back." Gilbert described to Ivanhoe.

It's called PMPS or post mastectomy pain syndrome.

"Some patients will describe a shooting burning pain. Sometimes across the chest wall, other times in the axilla of the arm pit. It can even come down the arm a bit." David Maine, MD, an Anesthesiologist/Pain Management Specialist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland explained.

Dr. David Maine is a pain management specialist in Baltimore. He says injuries to the nerve branches in the chest wall create chronic pain, tearing away at quality of life.

Gilbert continued, "I wasn't suicidal at that point, but I didn't know how much longer I wanted to live with that much pain all day, every day."

"Her personality changed. That was hard to deal with." Laurens husband Mike said.

Using imaging guidance, Dr. Maines' placed a needle into the rib area on top of the nerve root, applying a corticosteroid or nerve block, bringing Lauren's pain down from a nine or ten.

"After the procedure I had two weeks ago, I'm at a one or two most days." Lauren said.

"I got my wife back." Mike stated.

Doctors say the procedure can be repeated, as needed to control pain. In addition to this therapy, doctors can also prescribe medication commonly used for epilepsy that is also used to treat neuropathic pain.

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