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The results of this study, which was conducted in Denmark, were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Surgery for breast cancer generally involves either breast-conserving surgery (also known as a lumpectomy) or mastectomy. In addition, in order to determine whether cancer has spread to the axillary (under-the-arm) lymph nodes, women often undergo an axillary lymph node dissection (removal of many lymph nodes) or a sentinel lymph node biopsy (removal of only a small number of nodes or even a single node).

Previous reports suggest that some women experience persistent pain following breast cancer surgery. In order to evaluate the frequency and predictors of persistent pain, researchers in Denmark conducted a study among 3,754 women who underwent surgery during 2005 and 2006. The women completed questionnaires about pain and sensory disturbance two to three years after their breast surgery.

  • 47% of women reported pain. Of the women who reported pain, 13% had severe pain, 39% had moderate pain, and 48% had mild pain.
  • Women were more likely to report pain if they were younger, had received radiation therapy, or had undergone an axillary lymph node dissection.
  • Of the women with pain, 20% had contacted a physician about the pain in the previous three months.
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This study suggests that persistent pain remains a problem for many women following breast cancer surgery. The researchers note that it will be important to explore new approaches to the prevention and treatment of post-surgery pain.

Reference: Gartner R, Jensen M-B, Nielsen J, Ewertz M, Kroman N, Kehlet H. Prevalence of and factors associated with persistent pain following breast cancer surgery. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2009;302:1985-1992.

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