QUESTION: My mom had breast cancer a few months ago. She had lumpectomy and radiation. Three months after that, she is starting to feel some pain close to the place where the tumor was. Is she at risk of having breast cancer again in that spot? What percent chance is it?
ANSWER: Once the lumpectomy site of your breast "wakes up" after the shock of surgery and radiation, it can recover some of its senses and experience discomfort-which is usually mild. Resolution of pain happens slowly and can take a long time. Your mom's doctor can recommend medications to ease her discomfort-something as simple as Tylenol can help relieve it completely or take the edge off.
It would be very unlikely for this pain to signal the return of the cancer only three months later. The risk of recurrence in the breast after lumpectomy (with clear margins) and radiation ranges between 5% and 15%; the average is about 10%. The larger the cancer, the closer the margins, the more aggressive the cancer's personality, the higher the risk of recurrence. Next time your mom goes to the doctor, see if you can go along with her. Ask your mom's permission to have a frank discussion with her doctor to get answers to these important questions. We wish her a speedy recovery. It's great that you are helping her in such an important and loving way.
—Marisa Weiss, M.D.