Still Painful

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QUESTION: I had radiation seven month ago. My breast is still very sensitive and painful. What can I do?

ANSWER: I am sorry that you are suffering from breast pain over the past seven months since completion of your radiation. Pain is one of the side effects of radiation that can vary widely from one woman to another. Some women just get an intermittent twinge of discomfort, most have mild to moderate discomfort, and some have more significant pain. Pain comes from irritation of the nerves, swelling and scar tissue, rubbing, and sometimes from infection. Usually the pain resolves substantially, if not completely, over time. It's resolution occurs in phases. Just after treatment, the bite of the pain eases up. But then after that, it resolves more slowly. Between six months and one year later, there should be more improvement; and between one and three years, there is further progress.

The main thing is to feel like it's resolving-even if it's going away slowly. While you still have discomfort, work with your doctors to find a way to get relief. Work closely with your doctor and nurse. Make sure there is no infection there that can be readily treated. Between physical therapy, gentle touch, medications, mindful measures, and other options, you are likely to get some, if not substantial, relief. There may be a "pain team" where you live that might have experience with your situation and can help. Know that this will take a lot of trial and error, patience and persistence, with good and not-so-good days. Hang in there as you work on making things better. Time should help you along the way.

—Marisa Weiss, M.D.

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