breast cancer


Some breast cancer patients complain of hand and wrist ailments. Some patients diagnosed with breast cancer may not be aware that their health issues may be related to CTS, or carpal tunnel syndrome.

What is carpal tunnel syndrome? It is the name of a group of symptoms that include swelling, pain, tingling and loss of strength in your hand or wrist. Tendons, and a nerve called the median nerve, must pass through this “tunnel” from your forearm into your hand. That nerve controls the feelings and sensations in the palm side of our thumb and fingers. Sometimes, swelling and irritation of the tendons can put pressure on the nerve, causing the symptoms of CTS. A patient’s dominant hand is the one that is usually affected.

How does breast cancer correlate? Some breast cancer patients who have a mastectomy, have build-up of fluids that go beyond the lymph system’s ability to drain, therefore, the symptoms cause pain from swelling of the arm or hand, which places pressure on nerves. Others may find that their medication contributes to the incidence of carpal tunnel or “trigger finger,” which includes locking and clicking of the fingers and persistent finger pain.

What are the symptoms? A number of symptoms occur such as tightening of the movement of the fingers, hand or wrist, swelling or the feeling of swollen fingers, although fingers do not appear swollen, tingling or pain moving from the wrist to the arm, or down to the fingers. Some patients find it difficult to grip, make a fist, or hold onto something small.

What are some treatments? Rest is a good start in order to alleviate repetitive movements. A simple wrist splint may be worn for support, to brace your wrist in a neutral position. A splint may be worn for 24 hours to help reduce pain. Medication with short-term use of non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may help to control CTS pain. Those include non-prescription-like aspirin or ibuprofen. Physical therapy, using exercises to make the wrist or hand strong is common, or massage, ultrasound and acupuncture, are just a few options. Surgery of CTS is one of the most common surgeries done in the U.S. Generally, surgery is the only option for severe cases, and open release surgery is a common approach, which involves making a small incision in the wrist or palm to relieve the ligament to enlarge the carpal tunnel. Surgery is done under local anesthetic and is an outpatient procedure. Any symptom should be seen and treated by a physician.

• Dr. Douglas A. Bobb of Sun Valley Hand Surgery is a resident of Ahwatukee Foothills and a top-ranked board certified orthopedic surgeon for more than 25 years. Reach him at (480) 827-8041 or


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