Sentinel Node Biopsy - nerve damage?

Hiya Everyone

I had my SNB done two weeks ago and have an appointment with my consultant tomorrow to find out about results and hopefully to set a date for the mx and reconstruction. I managed to get an infection following the SNB which I think has cleared now after a course of anti-biotics but something funny is going on with my arm. Has anyone else experienced this. My arm feels really sore like as though I have sunburn and when I try to stretch it out straight it feels as though something inside is pulling and is painful. My GP thinks it might be nerve damage. Should I be stretching my arm to help it heal or not? I want it to be in the best shape ready for when I have the big operation as I’m worried I won’t be able to move anything at all…

Gilly x x x

Hi Gilly
Can’t really help other than say I’ve had an odd sensation/pain down my right arm, since my SNB, almost 6 months ago. Comes and goes, and I read recently that sometimes it lasts for months, and sometimes permanent.

Hi Gilly, yes, it probably is nerve damage. It’s very common after anything to do with the lymph nodes as they have to go through a web of nerves to get to them so the nerves get disrupted. The sunburn feeling is due to the nerves having been disturbed and trying to sort themselves out. It’s common to have a numb area left and this is pretty much inevitable if have a lot of nodes removed.

I found the burning pain in my arm was really bad and pretty much untouched by painkillers, but what did help was to stroke it very gently. This really hurt but after a few minutes the pain lessened a lot and the effect lasted for a while. I’d read somewhere that stroking it desensitises the area and it really worked for me.

the pain when you’re stretching sounds as though it could be cording, caused by the lymph vessels in your arm hardening up. It’s quite common after node removal but if you had an infection then I’d imagine your lymphatic system will have been disturbed rather more than would be usual in a SNB. You should get hold of the BCC post-op excercise DVD from here*/changeTemplate/PublicationDisplay/publicationId/159/ - it’s free and the excercises are really good at sorting out problems such as mobility and cording. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It will be useful for you now and even more so after your big op. You’ll probably see a physio who’ll give you some excercises anyway after your op, but I’d do these as well.

I had quite bad cording but my physio showed me how to massage my arm and I used olive oil to do it, gently stroking and rubbing the painful line up my arm and into my armpit (always up towards the armpit to avoid lymphoedema). Again, it hurt initially but got better as I did it.

Good luck with all of your treatment - we’re all here for you!

Jane xxx

I went straight to ANC as the biopsy showed cancer, but I recall the surgeon telling me they HAD to cut a certain nerve to get at all the nodes - if they didn’t they’d have missed something!! Not show how this works with SNB but was definitely the case with ANC - not that that helps I suspect - but be warned.

The advantage is arm pit waxing no longer hurts!


Hi Gilly, yes there is often some nerve damage following an SNB or a clearance, and you get pain coming from the nerves themselves. My arm still feels as though I have a swollen cuff at the top, although there is no swelling, and it seems crazy that the same place can be numb and painful at the same time.

Do you have the booklet or video about arm exercises? I find that moving and stretching my arm helps to relieve the pain for a time, and it seems that anything that gives you a normal sensation helps to override the nerve pain. It’s important to build up the exercises gently, but they really do help.

Just by way of encouragement: about 20 years ago my husband had a nasty fall which gave him both a radial and compound fracture of his left arm and this at least partly severed a big nerve. But the nerve has regrown, thanks in large part to physiotherapy and really determined exercise on his part (among other things, he plays the piano). Despite a really bad injury and bad nerve damage, he recovered full use of that arm with just a little residual weakness and a tendency to set of airport metal detectors!


Hi Gilly
Could be either nerve damage or cording of the lymph vessels. From my experience the nerve damage feels like a constant electric shock or buzzing sensation. I’ve also had (luckily) minor experience of cording and that is as you describe - a feeling like a tight cord running from your armpit and down your arm. I could see the cording in the mirror if I lifted my arm right above my head - a visible raised line, which I could also feel if I prodded it.
The cures I used were: Amitriptyline (an old-fashioned anti-depressant) for the nerve damage - 20mg per night, which is a lot less than is used to treat depression; and for the cording it was exercise. Boring I know, but it worked really well. Get a copy of the BCC exercise DVD and leaflet and just do as they say, but make sure you do it regularly.
I found that I had to do the exercises at least 3 times per day in the first few weeks after surgery, and even 9 months later I have to do a few exercises during the day whilst I’m at work and then do a more rigorous set when I get home. But it’s worth it, since thanks to all that exercise I have full mobility and strength in my shoulder on the BC side.
Sarah x

Thanks ladies :slight_smile:

I have cording under my arm which when I raise my arm over my head you can now see. I’ve done the exercises and although its painful to do them, I can already feel the benefits. I just need to remember to do them! The surgeon I spoke to yesterday has recommended swimming so I’m going to dig my cossie out and have a go which could be entertaining for the lifeguards lol…Thanks for the link Jane, I’m just going to have a look now and see if I can order one…

Gilly x x x
Day 2 of no smoking!

Hello Everyone
I’m Having a really bad day today and have been crying on and off for most of it :frowning: Now its time for bed I’m wide awake and feeling really down. I had an infection following my SNB a couple of weeks back and although I finished the antibiotics I don’t think it ever fully cleared. Over the past few days my boob has started to change shape, is pulling and much bigger than it was. It just doesn’t feel right. My arm which was beginning to feel ok now feels heavy and tingly at the top. I’m scared now that there’s something else going on that hasn’t been picked up and I still haven’t had a date for my mx and recon although I’m hoping to get this on Wednesday when I see the surgeon. Since having the SNB I’ve had two appointments to see the consultant, the first time they overlooked me and I waited for and hour and a half and didn’t see him as by then his clinic had finished, and the second time his name was on the board but taken down and I only saw the BCN. My GP is the only person who has looked at my armpit and boob and I’m going to try to get an appointment to see him tomorrow. I’m also feeling really depressed at the thought of losing my breast and I’m not sure how I’m going to cope afterwards. I had a hysterectomy and my ovaries removed a few years back and now this. It feels as though there isn’t much more that can be taken. Has anyone else had any problems like this following a SNB? I feel really isolated apart from coming on here, as I find it difficult to share my feelings and worries face to face with people I don’t know. I know the BCN are great at what they do, but I don’t feel able to share any of this with them at the moment.

Sorry if this all sounds a bit much, but I’m glad I can come on here and share with you as I know you all understand.

Gilly xxx
Day 5 = no cigarettes

Hi Gilly

I am the complete insomniac as you can see from the time I am posting. I didn’t experience what you have but I think you are right to get to the doctor tomorrow. It sounds as if you have been really unlucky with the infection etc and also that you may need more antibiotics. It is no wonder you have been weepy and down. I think too that you have been treated shabbily by your consultant. So don’t feel bad for being a bit depressed about everything.

I have had a bilateral mx and understand your fears about how you will feel. We are all different in our reactions. I was a bit upset the first time I looked at myself. I didn’t opt for reconstruction and I do miss my boobs but the alternative to losing them was worse so I content myself with that thought.

I feel bad for you so have a wee ((hug)) in the meantime.

PS Keep up the good work re the ciggies.

Hi Gilly
Yup, I had a lot of pain etc after SNB to start with, but it went after a few weeks. Bit numb under there now but hopefully you’ll have the same sort of experience.
Meantime, sounds like you need a cuppa/hug/both?
Ann x

Me again. I saw the doctor today and yes I have an infection with oedema in the breast tissue, but never mind. I really hope I get to find out what’s happening with my op on Wednesday as I think half of my problem is the waiting and not knowing.

Thank you for the virtual hugs I needed them :slight_smile:

Gilly x x x

Hi Gilly,

Another late nighter as you can see. I hope things are better for you in terms of infection control and hope your op has been explained to you in terms of what you can expect from surgery.
I found after having reconstruction that there was not the sense of loss I might have expected. It was reassuring to be cancer free and still have two breasts. Great news with ditching the cigs! My surgeon and breast care nurse did not approve of patches etc because they too contain nicotine which constricts blood vessels and hinders healing after surgery. As a result I gave up the patches a week before my surgery and am now 14 weeks on without cigs.It definitely is one of the best things you can do for yourself and it means better health, skin, hair etc and money to treat yourself too. Take care.

Hi ladies I had MX and SNB biopsy 1 week ago so still feelin a little fagile but ok, had my dressings removed and my drain out on Weds n there were lots of tears couldn’t bear to look I was so scared but I did it n although its not nice Im ok today about it (well ok as I can be).Just needing some advice my husband wants to look n hes being really supportive n hes proud of how brave im bein (dont really think i am) but Im really scared about his reaction.Also i know its only been a week but I have alot of pain n swelling under my arm,its like something tight around my armpit n its really painful the district nurse wasn’t overly worried just told me to take Ibroprophen n c my doc on Monday if no improvement n to do my exercises but Im finding them hard with the pain.
Im still asking why this is all happening to me (or any of us)Life is so unfair!!!I dont want to go through all of this Im so frightened about starting my chemo n totally terrified about getting my results in a week,Im trying to stay positive but its so hard,n everything seems much worse when ur wide awake in the middle of the night n the dark thoughts creep back.Thankgod I have my 2 gorgeous little girls to keep me smiling.
Sorry just needed a moan xxxxx

Hi Locket,

Hope you are feeling a bit better and in less pain now. Hope results came back ok too, as this should give some peace of mind-waiting is always worse. Sometimes the swelling can be caused by (seroma)fluid and this, in turn, will also cause pain. Mine had to be drained off by nurse and doc on three occasions before it all settled down. This took about four weeks after mx, although the exercises if you can manage will help with stiffness.

Sending you hug and try not to get too stressed about other treatments.

Hi locket

I am posting a link to the BCC publication ‘Your operation and recovery’ which you may find helpful as it contains information about possible symptoms after breast cancer surgery:*/changeTemplate/PublicationDisplay/publicationId/100/

Best wishes

Locket, as a bloke I would take your hubby wanting to look as positive. Whil us bolkes are not totally predictable. if he was going to have a problem, he probably would not want to see.

I’ll also add comment that nerve damage can recover - no promises though.

When I was 12 I broke my elbow in the school gym. Fortunately I did it rather badly so got the best consultant surgeon. I had even bent my forearm bones! As a result of that the initial plan was to leave it a week, which was good as it gave the numbness up the outer side of my right erm and ito ring & little fingers of the right hand that showed nerve damage. That meant surgery rather than manipulation.

It took a while, but the nerves fully recovered.


Thanks guys, i’m feeling alot better now and the swelling is’nt too bad now.Its results day tomorrow which im totally terrified so another sleepless and teary night again ,been a mess really all week just been trying to keep it together for my