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Types of Pain

When you start breast cancer treatment, it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between pain caused by the cancer and pain caused by cancer treatments.
 
 

Breast cancer pain

When you start breast cancer treatment, it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between pain caused by the cancer and pain caused by cancer treatments.

If the breast cancer is early-stage, meaning it has not spread outside the breast area, pain is not a common symptom. But a breast tumor can cause pain as it pushes into nearby healthy tissue. 

With inflammatory breast cancer, which is considered locally-advanced breast cancer, breast pain and redness is often one of the first symptoms.

If the breast cancer has become metastatic — meaning it has spread to parts of the body away from the breast — pain can be caused by tumors in other parts of the body, such as the bones, liver, or lungs.

Metastatic breast cancer is more likely to cause pain than early-stage breast cancer. For example, if the breast cancer spreads to the bones, it may cause back, hip, or shoulder pain. If the breast cancer spreads to the liver, it can cause abdominal pain.

Most breast cancer treatments can cause some type of pain, ranging from mild discomfort to more intense pain. Learn more about the side effects associated with each type of treatment:

 

Abdominal pain

Abdominal pain is pain that you feel anywhere between your ribs and your pelvis. This area is commonly called the belly or stomach.

Abdominal pain can take many forms, including:

  • cramps

  • stomach ache

  • gas pains

  • colicky pain — pain that comes in waves and starts and ends suddenly; kidney stones and gallstones commonly cause this type of abdominal pain

  • ulcer pain

Several breast cancer treatments can cause abdominal pain, including:

  • chemotherapy

  • hormonal therapy

  • targeted therapy

  • immunotherapy

In some cases, the cause of abdominal pain can be a serious problem that needs immediate treatment, such as appendicitis or an infection. If you have any type of abdominal pain that lasts for more than 24 hours or gets worse as time passes, call your doctor right away. 

Abdominal pain can be caused by breast cancer treatment side effects that affect your gut, such as constipation, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting. 

Learn more about managing abdominal pain caused by constipation.

Learn more about managing abdominal cramps or pain caused by diarrhea.

Learn more about managing abdominal pain cause by nausea.

 

Back pain

Back pain can range from sudden, sharp pain to a dull, constant ache. In some cases, the pain can radiate down one or both legs or get worse when you bend, sit, lift something, or walk. Back pain is one of the most common medical problems in the world — eight out of 10 people have back pain at some point in their lives.

Several breast cancer treatments may cause back pain, including:

  • chemotherapy

  • hormonal therapy

  • targeted therapy

If you’ve been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer that has spread to the spine, back pain is a common symptom. In many cases, spinal breast cancer lesions are treated with radiation therapy.

Back pain caused by something other than spinal metastases often is treated with a combination of exercises and stretching, in some cases prescribed by a physical therapist. Other techniques that can ease back pain are:

Your doctor also may recommend over-the-counter or prescription medicines to control back pain.

 

Bone and joint pain

Pain in your bones and joints can range from mild soreness to severe pain that interferes with your ability to function and do your daily routine. 

Several breast cancer treatments may cause bone and joint pain, including:

  • chemotherapy

  • hormonal therapy, especially medicines called aromatase inhibitors

  • targeted therapies

Bisphosphonates, medicines used to treat osteoporosis, may cause bone and joint pain.

Neulasta (chemical name: pegfilgrastim), Neupogen (chemical name: filgrastim), and Zarxio (chemical name: filgrastim-sndz), medicines used to reduce the risk of infection during chemotherapy, also may cause bone and joint pain.

If you’re experiencing bone or joint pain, talk to your doctor right away. If the pain is due to a breast cancer treatment, you may be able to switch to a different medicine.

Strategies that can help ease bone and joint pain include:

Your doctor also may recommend over-the-counter or prescription medicines to help ease bone and joint pain.

 

Chest pain

Chest pain can range from a sharp stab to a dull ache. There are a number of issues that can cause chest pain, including serious heart and lung problems. Here, we only discuss pain in the chest area related to breast cancer treatment.

Pain in the chest area is common after breast cancer surgery and during the healing process. After mastectomy or lumpectomy surgery, you may feel a mixture of pain and numbness in the area where the surgery was done. This is because some nerves were bruised, stretched, or cut during surgery. Right after surgery, you may feel shooting pains in your chest. This is also because the nerves are irritated or damaged. Your surgeon will likely give you a prescription pain medicine to manage this chest pain during the healing process.

Learn more about what to expect with:

If you have breast reconstruction with a tissue expander and an implant, you may have chest pain as the tissue is stretched to accommodate the implant.

During and after radiation therapy, you also may have pain in your chest. This is also because the nerves are irritated.

Strategies that can help ease chest pain include:

Your doctor also may recommend over-the-counter or prescription medicines to help ease chest pain.

 

Muscle pain

Muscle pain, called myalgia by doctors, can be a deep, steady ache or random sharp pains. The pain may be in one specific area or it may be all over your body. There are a number of issues that can cause muscle pain, including diseases other than breast cancer and infection. Here, we focus on muscle pain related to breast cancer treatment.

Nearly all breast cancer treatments can cause muscle pain, including:

  • chemotherapy

  • radiation therapy

  • hormonal therapy

  • targeted therapies

Bisphosphonates, medicines used to treat osteoporosis, may cause muscle pain and stiffness.

Neulasta (chemical name: pegfilgrastim), Neupogen (chemical name: filgrastim), and Zarxio (chemical name: filgrastim-sndz), medicines used to reduce the risk of infection during chemotherapy, also may cause muscle pain.

Strategies that can help ease muscle pain include:

Your doctor also may recommend over-the-counter or prescription medicines to help ease muscle pain.

— Last updated on February 9, 2022, 11:41 PM

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