Late symptoms after radiotherapy

Hi, I completed radiotherapy 25 Aug 23, and have been OK until last week when I started to get achy ribs and muscles between my ribs, also my shoulder has started to get stiff, no problems before. Any advice please.

Hi Katharine,
I finished radiotherapy around the same time as yourself. I haven’t had any problems yet with my shoulder but have experienced the rib discomfort. If I palpate my ribs they feel bruised and ache. I’ve also noticed the radiated breast feels firmer and I am aware of intermittent mild discomfort in the breast. I’m presently on letrozole and abemaciclib so I’m often feeling odd aches and pains. These aches and pains are manageable and don’t require analgesia but they cause me anxiety. I feel I can’t express these concerns with family and friends as I don’t want to worry them and I can’t discuss them with bcn or oncologist as I don’t want to appear neurotic. Sorry I’m rambling on and have deviated from the topic. Wishing you well

Hi Shade, thanks for your reply. I’m on Tamoxifen and not sure if that’s contributing to the aches and pains. My breast seems swollen and tender particularly behind the nipple. Saw the breast surgeon about 3 weeks ago but didn’t get any solution other than use a tight sports bra to squeeze out fluid from the breast. They talk a lot of jargon and not everyday language we can all understand. I just feel so let down by the breast clinic. I worry all the time about the pains and now the movement becoming restricted due to the pain discomfort in my shoulder. I don’t feel I can phone the breast clinic again for the same reason, but it doesn’t help with the worry. Take care, Katharine

Hi Katharin,
I had radiotherapy in August 2022. I have had shoulder stiffness this year and the rib pain and aches comes and goes. I was referred to orthopaedics about my shoulder and was advised it was probably a loss of strength due to surgery( I had a lumpectomy then 6 months later a full lymph node clearence). The consultant recommended some exercises with a resistance bad. Not sure if I did them wrong, or for long enough.but my shoulder was worse and I have stopped them for now. I have a lovely oncologist who sent me for a CT scan to check my ribs as a precaution. They were all clear and shes advised its side effects from the radiotherapy she recommended I use voltarol and to continue my post op stretches. My breast cancer physio also recommended a cool gel pack( not frozen) for my shoulder and upper arm.
Shade I am also on letrozole and abemaciclib. Please go back to your breast clinic or ask your Gp to refer you to a breast specialist physio. Dont suffer or worry in silence. Best wishes to you both. X

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Sorry, its Katharin thats on letrozole and abemaciclib! I blame the chemo!!! :slight_smile:

I am over a year from my Radiotherapy and I have have the same problem with my shoulder and rib cage. (I didn’t have chemo) What I have found really has helped the rib cage pain is side stretching - Standing up and raising my arms then bending to the side and gently pumping the hand for 10secs. Thread the Needle exercise also helps These are similar to the post op exercises. I did speak to a sport physio from the radiotherapy centre and a cancer nurse about this. And was advised to stretch. The nurse thought it is referred pain due to the nerves been damaged and the physio mentioned scar tissue. You need to keep with the stretching for at least a year post op. Good Luck

Thank you Lakesiderunner for the information. This stiffness has come out of the blue as I had no problems previouly either post surgery or immediately after radiotherapy.
I’ll certainly add in the stretching exercise you suggested. I felt it was due to the radiotherapy, but it could be scar tissue as it feels like something is going to snap when I do the exercises that were given.
Thank you and Happy New Year

Hi Galaq, thank you replying to me. I am going to get some voltarol and a cool pack. I’m on Tamoxifen so wasn’t sure if it was contributing to this, but I’m more inclined to think it’s the radiotherapy. I had a lumpectomy june 23 and only 3 lymph nodes removed so didn’t really expect any problems especially this late. Seems I was wrong and side effects can crop up any time.
Thans again. Happy New Year

Thank you Katharin, glad I could be of help. Sadly when you read the forums these aches and pains and stiffness can last a long time. I did my post op exercises religiously and luckily have full movement of my arm and shoulder. But 19 months post op I have to keep doing them. If I dont I can feel my scars and muscles tightening up. Hey ho it could be a lot worse., I try to do a few stretches while my tea is brewing so its a bit of a routine now. Best wishes to you and everyone reading this for 2024.

Hi, I had a Lumpectomy and Radiotherapy and started tamoxifen back in 2021. I have experienced severe pain in my breast, ribs and shoulder ever since! I have been back and forth to the clinic and have had x rays etc, but everytime they say it’s the side effects and damage caused from surgery and radiotherapy. I have also recently been diagnosed with Lymphoedema!
I have always and still do the exercises given along with Pilates and I use heat bags daily as well as gels. That’s all I can recommend really. I just constantly tell myself though that I am one of the lucky ones as it really could be a lot worse! Xx

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Hi Charls, thank you for your reply and sorry you have had severe pain since your lumpectomy.
Like you, I’ve been consistently doing the exercises from the beginning and this pain just appeared in mid Nov. Seen the breast surgeon mid Dec and told to wear a sports bra for compression as my breast looks a bit swollen. Never mentioned lymphoedema but it might explain the arm pain. I only had 3 lymph nodes removed so didn’t expect lymphoedema and it was never mentioned at the clinic either. I have taken some voltarol today and it definitely made doing the exercises easier. Will try all the suggestions in this thread and I’m so grateful to everyone who replied to me.
Thanks, Katharine

I have Lymphoedema in my breast and around my ribs, my breast sometimes doubles in size and only get a small amount of swelling in my arm. I too only had 3 Lymph nodes removed, so I didn’t expect to get Lymphoedema either. Apparently it can start at any time, it was my consultant who told me I had it and he then made a referral to the Lymphoedema clinic which have now prescribed different methods to try.
Good luck and don’t give up if you are in pain, the effects of Breast Cancer seem to continue :woman_facepalming:

Thank you Charls, you’re right the effects of breast cancer just keep on coming. I saw my breast surgeon 12th Dec and he never mentioned lymphoedema, but he did tell me my breast was swollen, which I already knew. He advised me to get a sports bra to squeeze the fluid out of my breast and the I didn’t need a physio referral.
Maybe I’ll have to push for a physio referral if this goes on much longer. My concern is that the longer this continues the longer it will take to put right. I did have alook at breast massage for lymphoedema on utube and am going to try to see if it helps.
Many thanks for your reply.

Hello everyone here (in the club we all wish we weren’t, but hey, at least we’re in good company).
Just thought I’d add my experience to boost the sense that “it’s not unusual”.
Had a different cancer in each breast simultaneously, and although quite small, due to strong fam. hist. decided on double mastectomy, no messing, no reconstruction.
On the strength of 1 very involved node (extracapsular) opted for axillary clearance rather than just ‘blind’ radiotherapy. A mere 6 weeks later, developed lymphoedema in that side’s arm and mostly hand/fingers. My lovely NHS lymph. therapist has helped me keep that at a moderate level.
Chest wall radiotherapy followed 4 months post latter surgery (backlog delay!) which really didn’t cause me any bother then.
Fast forward another 6 months or so and I developed pain in (one?) rib at site of original tumour (and in remaining band of soft tissue?), most particularly when turning over in bed. Terrified it was bone mets already, I bothered the surgical team for CT scan and NM bone scan. (They wouldn’t agree to completing the hat trick with an MRI.) Nothing untoward found. So I hope it really is just down to the radiotherapy.
Gave up Anastrozole and bisphosphonates after 10 months - really had an impact on normal daily life.
Still getting occasional electric shock sensations too from nerve activity, all around the chest area. Sensation in armpits, and just behind them, is weird, at the same time tender and numb. That aspect has stopped improving, I think.
I kept the stretching exercises going religiously for about a year and still sometimes add them into my usual stretching/bending/twisting wake-up routine - need to pop and crack everything back into place each morning to make for a more flexible day, now I’m 63 ! I’m sure they help with the radiotherapy damage.
If this is as bad as it gets, (please Universe!), I’ll take it.