Saturday, December 12, 2009

Phantom Breast Pain

I have been having weird sensations in the breast that no longer exits! Not pain exactly but definite twinges. I wondered if that was common so I looked into it. In a study conducted at Johns Hopkins Hospital, researchers found that more than one third of the women who underwent mastectomy (surgical breast removal) to treat breast cancer experienced phantom breast sensations and other pain after surgery. The incidence of phantom breast pain was similar, regardless of whether or not the women had breast reconstruction after breast cancer surgery. Phantom breast pain is similar to the phenomenon of phantom limb pain experienced by persons who lose an arm or leg. Even when an arm or leg is gone, some amputees feel pain that their brain interprets as coming from the missing limb. Some patients complain of breast pain (known medically as mastalgia) that they associate with their surgery even years after the surgery occurred.
In patients who undergo mastectomy, the “limb” is their breast. This phenomenon, though not uncommon, is poorly understood. The most likely explanation is that when nerves are severed, the brain rewires the region that previously processed sensations traveling from the now damaged pathway. Adding to the confusion is the tendency of injured nerves to fire randomly in the area where the damage has occurred. Patients who experience pain in their breast or breasts before surgery are likely to continue having pain afterwards as well. This is especially true in women who experience what is known as phantom breast pain, sometimes known by the acronym PBP. If there is any good news related to mastalgia, it is that it breast pain is very seldom an indicator of cancer; a fact that should offer some comfort to women living with the fear of recurrence.
I also read that EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), a type of trauma therapy that works wonders is good for people experiencing phantom breast pain. Because losing a breast can be traumatic, a few sessions of EMDR can help stop the pain. So, should it get worse or really become painful, I know where to turn!

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