Causes of Chronic Post-Mastectomy Pain

Post-mastectomy pain, also known as post-mastectomy pain syndrome (PMPS), is a type of chronic postoperative pain.

PMPS is pain that persists after a mastectomy or another type of breast surgery is performed. Procedures that may lead to post-mastectomy pain include total mastectomy, partial mastectomy, lumpectomy and even breast reconstruction.

Woman in a bra with a scar on her chest
tomazl / Getty Images


Post-mastectomy pain is often neuropathic, meaning it is usually caused by nerve damage. Most researchers assume post-mastectomy pain is caused by damage to the nerves in the breast and underarm area or the development of a neuroma (an abnormal nerve tissue growth).

Another possible cause of post-mastectomy pain under investigation is the formation of a hematoma during surgery.


Post-mastectomy pain can cause numbness, a burning pain, or a dull ache. The pain may be present in the chest area (near where the breast was operated on) as well as the armpit and arm on the operated side. This pain is often worse when you move the shoulder on the affected side. Post-mastectomy pain may also increase when pressure is applied to the area.

The degree of pain varies from woman to woman, ranging from mild to severe.


Post-mastectomy pain may be treated with a variety of medications, including the following:

Opioids may also be used to treat chronic post-mastectomy pain in cases where other medications are not effective.

Other options for treating post-mastectomy pain include the following:


If you or someone you know suffers from post-mastectomy pain, you are not alone. Talking with others can help, and there are several communities online with members who know exactly what you are going through. Furthermore, please remember to air your concerns with your primary care physician or surgeon. There is no reason to live with chronic pain if appropriate treatment is available.

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  • Blunta Cornelia and Schmiedel Angelika. Some Cases of Severe Post-mastectomy Pain Syndrome May be Caused by an Axillary Haematoma. Pain. Volume 108, Issue 3, Pages 294-296 (April 2004)
  • Macdonald L, Bruce J, Scott NW et al. Long-term Follow-up of Breast Cancer Survivors with Post-mastectomy Pain Syndrome. British Journal of Cancer. 2005 January 31; 92(2): 225–230
  • Vilholm OJ, Cold S, Rasmussen L and Sindrup SH. The Postmastectomy Pain Syndrome: An Epidemiological Study on the Prevalence of Chronic Pain After Surgery for Breast Cancer. British Journal of Cancer. 2008 August 19; 99(4): 604–610.

By Erica Jacques
Erica Jacques, OT, is a board-certified occupational therapist at a level one trauma center.