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Eur J Pain. 2007 Jan;11(1):99-108. Epub 2006 Feb 17.

Phantom breast sensations and phantom breast pain: a 2-year prospective study and a methodological analysis of literature.

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  • 1Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, Hanzeplein 1, P.O. Box 30 001, 9700 RB Groningen, The Netherlands.


The first aim of this study was to assess prospectively the incidence of phantom breast sensations (PB sensations) and phantom breast pain (PB pain) in a sample of patients treated for breast cancer (n=204) by means of a modified radical mastectomy (n=82). Patients were assessed 6 weeks, 6, 12 and 24 months after mastectomy, by means of a questionnaire. After 24 months, assessments of 74 (90%) patients were available. Two years after mastectomy, PB sensations were present in 19% (n=14) of the patients and PB pain was present in 1% (n=1) of the patients. Over time the percentage of patients with PB sensations remained relatively stable (around 20%) but for PB pain the percentage reduced from 7% to 1%. The amount of suffering as a result of PB sensations or PB pain was very limited. PB sensations and PB pain are of little clinical relevance in the 24 months following mastectomy. The second aim of this paper was to analyse the influence of research methodology on the prevalences of PB sensations and PB pain previously reported. Research design, assessment method and publication date were recorded. Data were weighted according to the number of women investigated. Linear regression analysis was performed to analyse the influences of methodology on the prevalences of PB sensations and PB pain. Of the 29 studies identified, 23 were cross-sectional and 6 were prospective. In 17 studies patients were interviewed and in 12 studies a questionnaire was used. A prospective design resulted in prevalences of PB sensations and PB pain averagely 8% lower respectively 9% higher than in cross-sectional studies. The use of an interview resulted in prevalences of PB sensations and PB pain averagely 13% lower respectively 5% lower than questionnaire use. Prevalences of PB sensations and PB pain reduce averagely with 0.08% respectively 0.13% per year since 1950. It is concluded that research design and assessment method have a significant influence on reported prevalence of PB sensations and PB pain.

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