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Breast swelling and pain after radiation
judyfams posted:
I finished 33 rounds of external beam radiation on 11/24/10, and last week my breast really hurt. Went to the radiation oncologist who said the breast was swollen from fluid build-up which can happen at any time post radiation. She told me to use aquaphor and lie on my back with my arm above my head and massage the breast twice a day. I do not have lymphedema - the fluid is just in the breast. The doctor said that basically the massage will get the fluid to move out of the breast and be absorbed by the body.

She also suggested ice and Aleve as needed. My breast does feel better, but still hurts. She said this could take time and to continue the massages each day.

Has anybody else had this and could you give me any other things I can do to help with this situation? I know it will get better in time and we are all different so the time it takes to go away will be different for all of us. I was just wondering if there is anything else I can do.

Thank you for any suggestions.
1fernehall responded:
Hi Judyfams: I'm surprised your Dr. didn't refer to the problem as lymphedema - but that's why I'm not a Dr. LOL. I have a similar problem after 35 rad treatments. I finished in April. Went to a breast specialist was told it was lymphedema and fibrosis. Was then sent on to physical therapy to learn the proper technique of massages. The fibrosis is harder (hurts) to deal with. They have me wearing a tight sports bra with a pad filled with shredded foam in it to keep it broken up. The less jiggling you do the better off it seems to be; therefore, they have me wear a very snug fitting camisole that's made from polyester and elastic. Hopefully Pat Sadblossom will respond as well; she had a lot of info for me that was very helpful. Keep us posted. Fern
sadblossom responded:
Well here I am, so let's see if I can be of any help. During and after my radiation I had about every kind of problem you can think of.All the way from seromas to a gosh awful itch. I was not told to use my arm after I had nodes removed therefore I favored it thinking that would be wise while waiting for it to heal......wrong! This lack of movement caused fluid buildup in my arm pit on two different occasions (seromas) the pain was horrible and felt as if I were giving birth in my arm pit. OUCH!!! One build up/seroma was surgically drained the one that came during my last stages of radiation ruptured thru the node incision inside out. Another BIG OUCH!!! That one drained for 3 weeks while I finished the rad treatments. Due to the location of the node removal incision I could not wear a bra and have not worn one yet. Movement of the breast does cause more pain(while walking mainly) so...........I tucked a soft,sterile, folded pillow case under my breast and arm to catch the drainage and support the breast, that helped alot. Also, ice packs/cold packs helps agreat deal as well. AND............try doing SLOW EASY arm stretches over the head, not hard strenuous ones, easy ones. Each day stretch a little more. Use the arm on that side a little more each day, don't strain it but a gradual increase. The slow movement/use of the arm helps move the fluid thru as it should go thru. It is the build up that causes the pain. I also used thera bands on a gentle work out plan.3 or 4 times a day. At times, I just held my arm out in front of me and just tightened my wrist and release repeatedly.I also leaned up into the wall and pushed myself out away from the wall using that arm.The fluid can build up under the arm or in the breast but has the same effect either place. Tylenol is what I would take. Now if you encounter the maddening ITCH that sometimes accompanies this here is a few helpful hints...............'cold' wet bath cloths/wash cloth placed on the itching area..............cortizone cream...........and LOTS AND LOTS of plain kitchen corn starch and use like you would bath powder. As often as needed. I would place a very cold wet cloth over the breast(or a cold pack) after my breast got very cold I packed on the cort.creme or aloe jel and cornstarch. Worked wonders for the itch. Highly recommend this method. Cortizone cream can only be used for a certain lenghth of time so keep Aloe jel on hand as well.You can use Aloe jel and corn starch as often as you need to. Now, all that being said............remember to slowly and carefully use the arm so the fluids will move on thru.Once they get started they seem to keep going.You can go without a bra if more comfortable, I did and still do.Just wear loose soft blouses. I hope this helps but please come back and ask me any questions at all if I left something out.
Best of luck and I really hope this discomfort gets better for you. I know how horrible that can be.I'll keep checking back here.
Please let me know how you do.
God Bless!
judyfams replied to sadblossom's response:

Thank you both for answering me so promptly and thoroughly! Luckily only my breast hurt. My arm and armpit where the sentinel node incision was made do not hurt.

I have been massaging the breast twice a day and the doctor said to wear a very supportive bra and approved the bra I showed her I was wearing. The breast never looked or felt different - it has always been soft and supple - and the doctor said it was just fluid in the breast when she exmined me. The pain has subsided to the point where I no longer need any Aleve and when I saw her this week she told me I can stop the ice packs if I wanted to.

I was thinking that after I finished radiation I did not wear a bra as it was easier to deal with the burns and aloe and cornstarch etc. that way. I never had any problems moving my arm as I did exercises the day after my lumpectomy and the arm never swelled up. The armpit was not radiated either, just the breast which was done in the prone position (face down). In that position there was no way the armpit received radiation. However I did not wear a bra even when I was shoveling snow - here in NJ we received over 50" of snow. I wonder if the breast hanging down unsupported while I shoveled might have caused the fluid retention since all this started last week - or was it just coincidental?.

At any rate the breast is getting better, and I will watch it carefully and wear my bra at all times from now on to support the breast.

I thank you both for your good wishes and advice - since I had never heard of this until I did research and found this could happen to some women at any time post radiation! This is not routinely mentioned as a side effect of radiation and nothing was said to me by my oncologist until I called her when it happenned.

Thank you ladies, you are so wonderful and caring. I just have to remember to get my bra ready to shovel yet another snow storm again this week!!!! Luckily I don't mind the snow up here in the NJ arctic!

sadblossom replied to judyfams's response:
Hi Judy,
Believe me if I were able to wear a bra right now, I would. But my node incision is EXACTLY lined up with the under arm bands of every bra I have found. The friction is just more than I could stand.This incision was/is a bit distorted in a small area because the seroma ruptured thru it after it had closed and healed and opened it up again. This incison also recieved radiation. Maybe because I had two bad nodes. So my under arm was what got the fluid build up. But to this day, 1 1/2 years later, when I use my arm like normal, it makes my breast sore and ache. I think it may be because the breast gets no support and is pulled in all directions plus nerve damage. I hope in time our breast gets back to normal but I really feel that this is something we will have to deal with from now on. But at least we are here to deal with it.
Best of luck and I hope it all gets better for you very soon! I hope it gets better for all of us.
God Bless!
judyfams replied to sadblossom's response:
I feel so badly that you have to deal with so much residual pain after all you've been through. I wish you well and applaud your courage, strength and great attitude.
We women have to really be strong to not only fight the cancer, but to go through the pain that follows the initial treatment(s).
Much good luck to you - you are an awesome lady and a great role model!
Jenna291 replied to judyfams's response:
I had 36 radiation treatments following chemo then lumpectomy. My breast remained swollen for several months after radiation finished. I was told to use the acquafor and massage the area, but honestly time was the best healer. I could not wear a regular bra for several months, so I wore a sports bra that I cut on the bottom of the affected side to be more comfortable. It has been 3 years for me and occasionally I feel a "ping" on that side when I least expect it. I was told that is normal, and can last for years.
All part of the fun!!!! I wish you luck and hope the swelling goes down soon.
best - Jenna
athensbetty replied to Jenna291's response:
HI i am in the same boat as all of you are.I have had this problem for 12yrs.My cancer came back in my bones and i just finsh more ra and chemo.My breast has never stopped hurting and being sore.I think the scar tissues only get worse.What is acquafor?My doctors have never told me about this.I have also had to have a pacemaker/defillator place in my heart and my chest because the chemo messed up my heart and my right lung all so collasped.So watch how u feel and tell your dr if you feel any shortness of breath as this can be happening.If you had the chemo known as the red devil.Adremiction.Not sure that is the correct spelling.please email me
judyfams replied to athensbetty's response:
Aquaphor is a thick lubricant similar to vaseline. I had no luck with it when I was going through radiation as I found it to be greasy and messy.
I have heard that Emu oil is suppossed to be wonderful. See if you can buy it on the internet or probably check with - as they just about sell everything!
good luck with your treatments. I am sorry that you have so many medical problems, but am glad that you are getting the medical care you so badly need.
Lots of luck to you as you deal with all of your health problems.
kiwiallright responded:
Try using Aloe Clear gel, it needs to be clear gel - it is very soothing. Good Luck

Shell1007 replied to kiwiallright's response:
I used over the counter cortisone cream & neosporin cream with pain relief. I mixed these together in my palm then applied.The creams are not heavy and very easy to spread.
This worked great for me, hope it does for you too.
Take care,

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