BACKGROUND: Moderate to severe pain in the first week after axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) for breast cancer is experienced by approximately 50% of the patients. Damage to the intercostobrachial nerve (ICBN) has been proposed as a risk factor for the development of persistent pain following breast cancer surgery but with limited information on acute post-operative pain. The aim of the present study was to examine the influence of ICBN handling on pain during the first week after ALND. METHODS: The study was part of a larger prospective cohort study on persistent pain after breast cancer treatment. Pain and sensory disturbances were assessed pre-operatively, within the first 72 h post-operatively and a week after surgery. Intraoperative handling of the nerve was recorded by the surgeon as preserved, partially preserved or sectioned. RESULTS: One hundred forty-one patients were treated with ALND level I + II, and the ICBN could be identified in 125 (89%) patients. Of the 17 not identified, eight were stated as without any sign of the nerve and were included in analysis as sectioned. Thus, the analysis included 133 patients in which 45 (34%) of these the ICBN was preserved, 39 (29%) partially preserved and 49 (37%) sectioned. At 1 week after surgery, 104 patients (78%) reported pain, whereas 35 (26%) reported moderate to severe pain. There was no difference between the ICBN groups in pain scores or sensory disturbances measured pre-operatively compared to 1 week post-operatively. CONCLUSION: The type of ICBN handling during ALND may not influence acute post-operative pain in the first week after surgery.
Acta Anaesthesiologica Scandinavica, 2014, Vol 58, Issue 10, p. 1240-8