Phantom Breast Syndrome

Li Liu, MD
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

I had a mastectomy 6 months ago. For some reason, I continue to feel pins and needles as if the breast had never been removed. Is this normal? What can I do with it?  
Thank you.

Li Liu, MD, OncoLink editorial assistant, responds:

Thank you for your interest and question.

What you have described is sometimes called "Phantom Breast Syndrome" (PBS) in which patients have a sensation of residual breast tissue. The incidence varies from different studies, ranging from approximately 30% to as high as 80% of patients after mastectomy (Cancer 1985 Dec 15:56(12): 2898-901; Arch Surg 1979 Jan; 114 (1): 93-5). PBS can persist years after surgery. (Clin J Pain 1992 Dec:8(4); 346-50). A recent report presented at the American Society of Anesthesiologists meeting demonstrated that depression and fear of cancer recurrence was greater in women who reported phantom pain. Those women also had more concerns than others that the mastectomy would have an impact on their sex lives.

Most of the time, the phantom pain goes away on its own. Painkillers may alleviate symptoms in some patients. Nonetheless, these symptoms should be discussed with your doctors.