A sizable percentage of women who undergo mastectomies for breast cancer continue to suffer bothersome pain from the surgery for at least 10 years, researchers said here.

Of the 369 patients who were followed for as long as 10 years, 19.5 percent reported post-mastectomy neuropathic pain, Ognjen Visnjevac, MD, resident in anesthesiology at the State University of New York at Buffalo, reported at the annual meeting of the American Pain Society.

He also said that 3 years after undergoing mastectomy, half of 1,155 patients reported post-surgery pain.

About 1/3 of women who had mastectomies reported pain at 4 years, 5 years, and 9 years after undergoing the surgery, Visnjevac said.

"It was just astounding to us to have people follow up years later and report pain, not always debilitating pain, but pain nonetheless," he told MedPage Today at his poster presentation. "What we are really trying to get across is that this post-mastectomy pain is something that doesn't necessarily go away."

In a review of medical literature, Visnjevac and colleagues identified 27 studies including 5,646 women who underwent mastectomies for breast cancer.

"As breast cancer survival continues to go up and up and up, we essentially are looking at a syndrome that affects as many as one-third of patients for several years," he said.

He and his colleagues estimated that about 1.19 million people who have survived breast cancer are troubled by post-mastectomy pain, which they suggested amounts to an enormous financial cost.

"We estimate that the national cost of caring for patients with post-mastectomy pain is about $1.55 billion to $2.3 billion a year," Visnjevac said. He noted that medications vary significantly for treatment of the pain due to their degree of illness, effectiveness of treatments, costs of adverse effects, cost of clinic visits, and health insurance coverage.

The cost estimate, he said, does not include work productivity loss, family or social support costs, and psychological services.

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