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Breast cancer warning sign #3: Upper back, shoulder, and neck pain

7 Early Warning Signs of Breast Cancer: Page 3

By , Caring.com senior editor
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back-pain

In some women, breast cancer is felt in the back or shoulders rather than in the chest or breasts. For this reason, spine specialists routinely look for the presence of tumors when treating chronic back pain that's unrelieved by physical therapy.

How it feels: The pain, which is typically in the upper back or between the shoulder blades, is easily confused with sore muscles, a pulled tendon or ligament, or osteoarthritis of the spine. The difference is that it doesn't go away with stretching muscles or changing position. Bone pain feels like a deep ache or throbbing.

What causes it: Most breast tumors develop in the glandular tissue of the breast, which extends deep into the chest, close to the chest wall. If tumor growth pushes backward toward the ribs and spine, the resulting pain may be felt in the back rather than in the breast. The first place breast cancer usually metastasizes, or spreads, is to the spine or ribs, becoming secondary bone cancer.

Scary stat: According to one study, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer patients whose cancer has spread to the bone is only 8.3 percent, compared with an overall survival rate of 75 percent.

What to do: Pay close attention to how back pain feels. If it doesn't go away with rest, stretching, or physical therapy, see your doctor. Keep the doctor informed if back pain continues despite treatment, and request a bone scan.