Coping with Post-Mastectomy Pain Syndrome

It is certainly well within the level of expectation to have some pain and/or discomfort after a mastectomy or lumpectomy. But when pain continues for more than a few months post surgery and begins to impact quality of life, this is very likely Post-Mastectomy Pain Syndrome (PMPS).

Studies have shown that between 20 and 30 percent of women who have breast surgery develop PMPS.

What is Post-Mastectomy Pain Syndrome?

Post-mastectomy pain syndrome (PMPS) is chronic nerve (neuropathic) pain after lumpectomy or mastectomy…The classic signs of PMPS are chest wall pain and tingling down the arm. Pain can also be felt in the shoulder, scar, arm, or armpit. Other common complaints include numbness, shooting or pricking pain, or unbearable itching

The exact cause of PMPS is unknown.  A strong theory however is that during surgery damage is caused to the intercostobrachial nerve.  This nerve extends from the outer edge of the breast and runs along the underside of the arm.

Treatments for Post-Mastectomy Pain Syndrome

There are treatments to help relieve PMPS.  This often starts with the use of ibupofen and/or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

The application of topical anesthetics can be effective for treatment in many cases.

Steroid injections or local anesthetic can be helpful for those who suffer from pain around the scar area.

As well as medical interventions, Integrative therapies can also be of help for those suffering with PMPS.  These include massage therapy, reflexology and acupuncture.

Why Seek Help?

In light of the toll that cancer therapies can have on the body, it may seem somewhat trivial to question your doctor about aches and pains. But it is not.

Pain not only has a physical impact, it can also have a mental one.

Research has demonstrated that the pain women experience suffering from PMPS has been linked to fear of recurrence.  This can be a paralyzing feeling.

Depression, as well, is strongly associated with pain.

Conclusion

Post-Mastectomy Pain Syndrome is real.

Do not dismiss symptoms or concerns that you are experiencing.  Consult your doctor and get relief.

We must be advocates of our own health.


References

https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/pain/post-mastectomy-pain-syndrome.html

https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/pain/post-mastectomy-pain-syndrome.html

https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/06/08/pain-after-breast-cancer-surgery-pmps/

https://www.painresource.com/cancer/post-mastectomy-pain-syndrome-pmps/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4031190/

 

 

 

 

 

women, sex and cancer

Women, Sex and Cancer

Cancer treatments can have an impact on your sex life.  As a woman, having an understanding of changes that you may experience during the course of your care can help to prepare you and to ease your concerns.

Reproductive Issues

If you are in your reproductive years you should speak to your oncologist, before you begin treatment, about its possible impact on your fertility. Preserving fertility is a viable option in many cases.  It is important to discuss the options available to preserve fertility. women, sex and cancer

Pain or Discomfort During Intercourse

Pain or discomfort during intercourse can also be problematic for some women going through cancer treatment.

Here are some suggestions should this be an issue:

  •  Vaginal lubricants

There are natural vaginal lubricants on the market.  Seek out companies that offer organic oil or water based products.  These will help to increase the comfort of sexual activity.

Coconut oil may also be of use not only as a lubricant but also as an external vaginal moisturizer.

  • Pelvic floor therapy

Pelvic floor therapy for women is a type of physiotherapy that helps with relaxation to loosen tight, tender vaginal muscles resulting in reduced pain during intercourse.

  • Vaginal dilators

Vaginal dilators can help to relieve pain during penetration. They function to stretch the vagina and reduce tightness. They can be used in combination with pelvic floor therapy.

Conclusion

Additional side effects of cancer treatments that can inhibit your ability to enjoy sex include low libido, nausea and fatigue.

It is important to understand that in most cases side effects will be remedied once your treatments are completed.

It is also very important that you keep an open dialogue with your partner during this time.  Speaking to someone with experience in this area may be beneficial both individually and as a couple.

And do remember this.  Intimacy with your partner can be experience in ways other than sexual if, for the time being, a sexual relationship cannot be enjoyed.

 

 

July is Bladder Cancer Awareness Month

July is Bladder Cancer Awareness Month.

Bladder cancer is the 5th most common cancer in Canada.  It is the 4th most common among men and 12th most common cancer among women. It is estimated that approximately 9,000 Canadians are diagnosed with bladder cancer each year.

The Bladder

The bladder is part of the urinary system. It is a hollow organ in the pelvis that stores urine before it is eliminated from the body.

The bladder wall is made up of 3 main layers:

  1. The urothelium is the inner lining of the bladder. It is made up of urothelial cells. The urothelium is also called the transitional epithelium.
  2. The lamina propria (also called the submucosa) is the thin layer of connective tissue that surrounds the urothelium. It contains blood vessels, nerves and glands.
  3. The muscularis propria is the thick, outer muscle layer of the bladder. It is made up of 3 layers of smooth muscle.

Common Symptoms of Bladder Cancer

  • Pelvic Pain
  • Back Pain
  • Pain while urinating
  • Frequent urinating but only small amounts at a time
  • Blood in urine

Possible Causes of Bladder Cancer

Although one cannot conclude with absolute certainty the cause of bladder cancer, the following factors have been linked to the disease:

  • Smoking and other tobacco use
  • Exposure to chemicals
  • Radiation exposure
  • Dehydration
  • Parasitic infections

Tips for Preventing Bladder Cancer

There are obvious things that you can do to help prevent bladder cancer when some of the possible causes are known.  They include the cessation of  smoking and limiting exposure to radiation and chemicals.

Drinking lots of water encourages frequent urination.  This helps you to get rid of harmful chemicals that can build up in your bladder.

Added to this eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables lowers your risk for many types of cancer including bladder cancer.

References:

https://bladdercancercanada.org/en/bladder-cancer-facts/

https://www.drugs.com/mcd/bladder-cancer

http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-type/bladder/bladder-cancer/the-bladder/?region=on

https://www.webmd.com/cancer/bladder-cancer/understanding-bladder-cancer-prevention

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(05)67077-8/fulltext

 

 

3 Common Characteristics of Cancer Survivors

June is Cancer Survivor Awareness Month.  Battles are being won as the war against cancer continues.

  • Over 60% of Canadians diagnosed with cancer are expected to survive for 5 years or more after a cancer diagnosis (Canadian Cancer Society)⠀

 

  • Cancer death rates have been declining since 1988 among men, and since the mid-1990s among women (Government of Canada, Canadian Cancer Statistics)⠀

  • Cancer mortality rates are decreasing more than 2% per year for lung, colorectal, prostate and oral cancers in males; breast and ovarian cancers in females; and Hodgkin disease and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, stomach cancer, and larynx cancer in males and females (Government of Canada, Canadian Caner Statistics)⠀

My unique vantage of being both a cancer survivor and a professional working with cancer patients has offered me the opportunity to bear witness to some common threads that weave many survivors together.

Although not exhaustive, I feel that these are the most constant traits of cancer survivors that I see.

3 Common Characteristics of a Cancer Survivor

1. A resolve to make necessary changes in diet and lifestyle

cancer survivorsMany cancer survivors change their diet to include whole, plant-based foods and eliminate processed, pro-inflammatory foods because they understanding that what they eat can either enhance health or detract from it.

Supplements to support health are often included along with dietary changes.

The importance of proper sleep, exercise and mindfulness is appreciated and strived for within the lives of many cancer survivors.

2. A willingness to take active participation in determining their cancer protocolunderstanding

Most cancer survivors have asked questions, considered many avenues of care and have taken an active role in determining the cancer protocol that feels right for them.  Many cancer survivors have taken an integrative approach to their care including modalities such as yoga and meditation in to their cancer protocol.

3. A belief that their body can heal

Survivors tend to have a strong belief that given the proper tools their bodies can overcome and heal from cancer.  Once established, a common trait of survivors is the firm belief that their protocol will be successful.

Life after a cancer diagnosis is different.  As with any profound event we experience, cancer resets the framework for us moving forward.  But we do.  We move forward.

We are survivors.

cancer survivors

 

References:

https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/chronic-diseases/cancer/canadian-cancer-statistics.html

http://www.cancer.ca

 

What is a probiotic?

Probiotics have become a common supplement in many people’s daily health plan.  But what exactly are probiotics?  What are their benefits and how do we know which one to choose?

The term probiotic is derived from the Greek language meaning “for life” but for our purposes I will use the definition as per the World Health Organization.

WHO defines probiotics as:

 

live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.”

For clarification, ‘live micro organisms’ are beneficial bacteria. ‘The host’ is you.

Now what exactly qualifies as live also needs to be clarified. In a scientific space, ‘live’ refers to ‘survivability’.  Survivability through the harsh environment of the stomach, through the small intestine and in to the colon.

Of great importance also, is the fact that the beneficial bacteria that we consume when taking probiotics do not colonize in the gut.  They confer their health benefits but within days of stopping use, the probiotic it is no longer found in the gut. This means that these bacteria are transient.

Benefits of Probiotics

The studied benefits of probiotic are many.  There is strong and increasing evidence supporting beneficial effects of probiotics to:

  • improvement of intestinal health
  • enhancement immune response
  • reduce levels of serum cholesterol
  • prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhea
  • cancer prevention

Within the cancer sphere, the exact mechanisms are under investigation.

studies have demonstrated that certain members of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium spp. decrease the levels of carcinogenetic enzymes produced by colonic flora through normalization of intestinal permeability and microflora balance as well as production of anti-mutagenic organic acids and enhancement of the host’s immune system.

In vitro and in vivo studies have indicated that probiotic bacteria might reduce the risk, incidence and number of tumours of the colon, liver and bladder.

Now if you have taken the foray in to the world of probiotic supplements it can be a confusing arena.

First let’s take a look at the naming of probiotics.

Probiotics are named according to Genus, Species and Strain.  In this example Lactobacillus Gasseri M58820, “Lactobacillus” is the genus, “Gasseri” is the species and “M58820” is the strain.  This is commonly abbreviated to L. Gasseri M58820.

Now that we have naming aced let’s consider what goes in to you purchasing the right probiotic.

3 Questions to Ask When Choosing Your Probiotic

What are you taking your probiotic for?  

Different probiotics will be beneficial for different health conditions.  In one study for example a group of people who took a combination of Lactobacillus gasseri KS-13, Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1 and Bifidobacterium longum MM-2 showed decreased inflammatory markers after 3 weeks of use.

Determine the health reason that you want to take a probiotic for and research the strains best suited to help you.

Is the supplement company reputable?

There are many reputable supplement companies with good quality probiotic products.  Some offer many strains of bacteria in their supplements.  Some may offer single strains.  Some companies offer both.  Many are research backed and offer novel delivery methods.

Check out the company. Read their research and settle upon a company that resonates with you.

Is the strength appropriate for the strains used?

The strength of a probiotic is the number of Colony Forming Units or CFU’s found on the label

Some probiotics may be effective at dosages of 1–2 billion CFU per day, while others may require at least 20 billion CFU to achieve the desired effects.

The number of colony forming units that you need really depends on what you are using the probiotic for.

For general good health, experts recommend between 6 to 10 billion CFU’s each day.

For minor health problems 20 to 30 billion may be adequate.

For more serious health problems, professionals may recommend higher doses. VSL#3 for example could be recommended for those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis.  It contains over 100 billion CFU’s.

Do your research.  Ask these questions and you will find what works best for you.

___________________________

References:

https://seed.com/probiotics-101/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4045285/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20187714/

https://www.healthline.com/health/types-of-probiotics#how-to-start

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25909149