Breast Cancer: Treatment-related Side Effects
Managing Breast Cancer Pain
There are many aspects to dealing with breast cancer, including pain from either the cancer itself or its treatment. Find out how to alleviate breast cancer pain.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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Breast cancer forces you to face a lot of challenges. One of these may be breast cancer pain, which can be from the cancer itself, often depending on the breast cancer stage, or from side effects of cancer treatment.
There are a number of different reasons why breast cancer pain occurs, depending on the type, size, location, and breast cancer stage. Breast cancer pain may occur because of:
- A large tumor putting pressure on skin or nerves within the breast or chest wall
- Breast cancer that has spread to the bones
- Certain chemotherapies and other medications that may also cause bone pain
- Blockage in blood vessels because of the cancer
- A blood clot due to an effect of the cancer
- Pain related to surgery
- Pain due to chemotherapy side effects, such as mouth, throat, and esophageal sores; abdominal pain; nausea and vomiting; constipation; or diarrhea
- Nerve pain, often in hands or feet, due to some types of chemotherapy
- An infection
- Aches and pains in the muscles of the back, neck, and other areas from lack of activity
Not everyone experiences breast cancer pain, and each breast cancer patient’s pain experience is different. You could experience pain anywhere in your body from breast cancer — it often depends on if, and where, it has metastasized. If you have cancer in your brain, hip, spine, or liver, you can expect to feel pain there. It's uncommon for the breast itself to hurt, but it does happen if the skin ulcerates, if cancer affects the skin, or if you have inflammatory breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Pain: How to Cope
The good news is that most cancer pain can be eased through pain management techniques, medications, or the treatment of the cancer.
Some current pain management techniques for breast cancer pain include:
- Surgeryto remove the tumor
- Chemotherapy or radiation therapyto shrink or destroy the tumor; radiation therapy may be particularly helpful for pain from bone metastases
- Medicationsto relieve the pain, in various strengths and types, from over-the-counter pills to intravenous narcotics depending on the cause and severity of the breast cancer pain
- Epidurals and nerve blocksto temporarily inhibit pain in a particular area
- Therapy,such as counseling, joining a support group, or psychotherapy, to help you find different ways to deal with breast cancer pain
- Complementary pain-management techniquesthat are used in addition to tradition approaches; these can include modalities like massage, relaxation techniques, and acupuncture
There are many different types and causes of breast cancer pain, but there are also many available treatment methods and coping techniques. Pain doesn't have to be — and should not be — a part of breast cancer or its treatment. But you do have to speak up and tell your doctor about your discomfort. In particular, ask your oncologist about better ways to manage side effects of chemotherapy that cause you pain. Pain management specialists are available in most hospitals and can usually prescribe a successful combination of treatment methods.
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