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Pain management

‘I thought that when the effects of radiation and chemotherapy wore off I would return to how I was before the surgery. However, I have been quite tender and sore ever since. Although I had a lumpectomy not a mastectomy, I have extreme pain. I feel that people (including doctors) dismiss this.’

Do you have an effective pain management plan?

Many women who undergo treatment for breast cancer experience pain at some stage. For most, this pain can be managed by their medical team. However, for a small percentage of women, pain can be acute and ongoing.

Pain can be caused by many things. The most common causes of pain during breast cancer treatment include:

  • breast cancer surgery, including breast reconstruction
  • radiotherapy burns
  • scar tissue
  • side effects from some breast cancer drugs, such as mouth ulcers, muscle and joint pain, nerve damage in the hands and feet

There are many ways doctors can help you to manage pain. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Pain management tips

  • Consider keeping a pain diary. This can be very helpful when you talk to your medical team about your experience with pain. It can also help you track any triggers to your pain.

    The US based website breastcancer.org recommends recording the following things in your pain diary: 
    • Where you feel pain (which parts of your body)
    • the intensity of the pain
    • the frequency of episodes
    • how long each pain episode lasts
    • what activities or times of day are associated with the pain (what activities make it worse or better; and when it flares or lessens)
    • which pain medications you’re taking (and how frequently)
    • whether you get pain relief from a medication (and for how long)
  • Take your pain diary to appointments and discuss your pain with your treating doctor.
  • Your breast care nurse may be able to help you with pain management. Remember to tell her what pain medications you are already using.
  • Some women find complementary therapies such as meditation, relaxation therapy, acupuncture or yoga help with pain management.
  • Regular exercise can also help to manage pain.

Pain clinics

Specialised pain clinics and pain physicians operate in some areas of Australia. You can ask for a referral to a pain specialist if you feel that your pain is not being well managed.

More information

For more information on pain management:

  • Visit the breastcancer.org website for useful information and tips for managing pain.
  • Pain Australia and Chronic Pain Australia also have information and resources for people living with pain.
  • Watch Cancer Council’s video below. It covers a broad range of issues including talking about pain, the pain scale, pain diaries, medication, side effects, depression, and alternatives to medication such as meditation and music.