Health Beat

Health Beat: Post-mastectomy pain syndrome

BALTIMORE - Lauren Gilbert was diagnosed in October 2009 with stage-one breast cancer. A lumpectomy spared her breast and saved her life, but it started a cycle of pain she was not prepared for.

"I called them zingers, where all of a sudden an electrical shock goes right though my breast from my back." Gilbert described.

It's called PMPS, or post-mastectomy pain syndrome.

"Some patients will describe a shooting, burning pain, sometimes across the chest wall, other times in the axilla of the arm pit. It can even come down the arm a bit." said Dr. David Maine, an anesthesiologist/pain management specialist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

Maine said injuries to the nerve branches in the chest wall create chronic pain, tearing away at quality of life.

"I wasn't suicidal at that point, but I didn't know how much longer I wanted to live with that much pain all day, every day." Gilbert continued.

"Her personality changed. That was hard to deal with," said Gilbert's husband, Mike.

Using imaging guidance, Maines' placed a needle into the rib area on top of the nerve root, applying a corticosteroid or nerve block, bringing Gilbert's pain down from a nine or 10.

"After the procedure I had two weeks ago, I'm at a one or two most days." Gilbert said.

"I got my wife back," her husband stated.

Doctors say the procedure can be repeated, as needed, to control pain. In addition to this therapy, doctors can also prescribe medication commonly used for epilepsy that is also used to treat neuropathic pain.

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