Is Shoulder Blade Pain A Sign Of Cancer?

Shoulder Pain

Intense shoulder pain could be a warning of cancer.

Pain in the bones is normally an orthopaedic issue. But, some pains could be due to other causes e.g., bone cancers. The pain in the scapula (triangular-shaped bone in the shoulder) should not be ignored as it could be related to cancers e.g., breast cancer and lung cancer. It could be a sign that cancer has spread to the nearby areas or the cancer treatment is undergoing.

What causes intense shoulder pain?

The cause of shoulder blade pain is related to the nature of pain. Regardless of the cause, severe pain in the shoulder blade can severely compromise your comfort and you will feel difficulty in sleeping too.

Neuropathic problems and surgical procedures

A feeling of tingling or intense itching is due to neuropathic problems and they are also associated with a burning sensation. You can also notice arm pain with peripheral neuropathies. Such pain could be due to damage to the local nerves (e.g., brachial nerve), due to radiotherapy or surgical procedures e.g., mastectomy, removal of lymph nodes etc.

Inflammation of muscles and tendons

You can also feel a sharp pain while moving the arm along with stiffness and swelling. This type of pain could be due to the inflammation of local muscles and tendons. Tendons are the fibrous tissue which attaches the muscles to the bone.

Cancers

The pain of metastatic cancer feels like a dull and deep ache in the bones or joints. The pain on the right side shows that the liver is also involved. Some important cancers that can cause shoulder pain are:

Pancoast Lung cancer tumours

The shoulder is a very complex structure and has a network of bones, nerves, muscles, ligaments and tendons. All these structures have a role in the functionality of the shoulder. The lung cancers particularly the Pancoast lung cancer tumours that develop on the top of the lung can involve surrounding muscles, ribs and vertebrae, thus can cause severe chest, shoulder and arm pain. Shoulder pain is among the common symptoms of Pancoast tumours.

The common symptom of lung tumour, severe chest pain is rarely confused.

Remember that pain is not an important sign of shoulder or breast cancer. It can occur when cancer has metastasized to the local area including the bones. The Pancoast tumour treatment damages the chest wall and can also cause shoulder pain by affecting the local nerves and muscles.

Other cancers

The cancers of different organs and types can migrate and establish in the bones. The spread of cancer to the liver can also cause pain in the right shoulder blade because some nerves connecting to the liver emerge from the same nerve as the shoulder.

Cancer treatment

Lung cancer treatment through radiotherapy can cause damage to the local nerves and muscles leading to shoulder pain. After the surgery, tough fibrous tissues (common in wound healing) can develop. It can also cause severe pain but the pain is not limited to the shoulder only.

The cancer treatments can damage one more of the structures in the shoulder. It can also change these structures. A heavy tumour can also cause more weight on the shoulders muscles, tendons and ligaments. Moreover, a heavy tumour can increase the weight on these structures making them more prone to injury and pain.

Radiation therapy can also damage local healthy tissues.

End note

A shoulder blade pain could be due to a variety of causes including metastatic Pancoast tumours or cancer treatment in the past. Cancer cells can invade any tissue including bones. It would be wise not to ignore it as it could be a sign of cancer or cancer relapse. Immediately consult the doctor if you have a dull and deep ache in or around your shoulder blades that is not responding to any treatments and also experiencing unexplained weight loss.

Take the advice of healthcare professionals if you experience shoulder pain for a long period.

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