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A study of 860 patients who had undergone surgery for breast cancer, published as a "Research Letter" in the January 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that the majority reported some level of pain 12 months after surgery, and that the factors associated with pain were chronic preoperative pain, chemotherapy, preoperative depression, and pain in the area to be operated.

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"Persistent pain following breast cancer treatments remains a significant clinical problem despite improved treatment strategies," a news release from the journal notes. "Data on factors associated with persistent pain are needed to develop prevention and treatment strategies and to improve the quality of life for breast cancer patients."


For the study, led by Tuomo J. Meretoja, MD, PhD, of the Breast Surgery Unit of Helsinki University Central Hospital, patients younger than 75 with nonmetastatic breast cancer treated there during 2006 to 2010 were sent a questionnaire 12 months after surgery, asking for assessments of the presence and intensity of pain.


At 12 months after surgery, 34.5 percent of the patients reported no pain, about 50 percent reported mild pain, 12 percent reported moderate pain, and about four percent reported severe pain.


The factors associated with pain at 12 months were chronic preoperative pain, preoperative pain in the area to be operated, axillary lymph node dissection, preoperative depression, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy.


"These findings may be useful in developing strategies for preventing persistent pain following breast cancer treatment," the authors said. "To identify patients who would benefit from preventive interventions, a risk-assessment tool is needed."