Intercostobrachial Nerve Sparing to Reduce Post-Surgical Pain

Official Title

Intercostobrachial Nerve Sparing in Breast Cancer Surgery to Reduce Persistent Post-surgical Pain - an International Randomized Controlled Trial


Sacrifice of the intercostobrachial nerve (ICBN) during surgery is associated with development of persistent post-surgical pain (PPSP), which affects up to 60% of breast cancer surgery patients. A large, definitive trial is needed to establish whether nerve preservation techniques are effective in reducing post-surgical pain after breast cancer surgery. If the effect of ICBN preservation is consistent with observational studies, the absolute reduction of rates of persistent pain would be considerable.The primary objective is to determine the effect of ICBN preservation, versus usual care, on the prevalence and intensity of PPSP at one year after breast cancer surgery involving axillary lymph node dissection (ALND).

Trial Description

Primary Outcome:

  • Persistent post-surgical pain (PPSP)
  • Moderate-to-severe PPSP
Secondary Outcome:
  • Operative Time
  • General physical functioning
  • General Mental functioning
  • Upper limb-specific physical functioning
  • Return to Work
  • Adverse Events
  • Pain Interference
  • Use of Prescription Opioids
  • Return to household activities
  • Return to leisure activities
  • Return to pre-surgical functioning
A 2016 systematic review that included 30 observational studies (n= 19,813 patients) found high quality evidence that axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) is associated with a 21% absolute risk increase of PPSP (95% CI = 13% to 29%). In many cases of breast cancer, surgery involves axillary approaches; however, preliminary evidence suggests that preservation of the intercostobrachial nerves (ICBN) may reduce the incidence of PPSP after axillary clearance. A 2014 systematic review found 3 small, single-centre randomized controlled trials (RCTs), that enrolled a total of 309 patients, and explored the effect of ICBN preservation versus sacrifice during breast cancer surgery. This review found that division of the ICBN was associated with higher risk of sensory deficits, and that nerve preservation techniques increased the median operating time by 5 minutes. Due to limitations of existing evidence, clinical practice guidelines currently provide no recommendations on whether the ICBN should be preserved during axillary lymph node dissection.A large, definitive trial is needed to establish whether nerve preservation techniques are effective in reducing PPSP after breast cancer surgery involving ALND. If all the apparent effect of axillary dissection is associated with lack of ICBN preservation, the absolute reduction of rates of PPSP would be considerable. Furthermore, nerve sparing requires no specialized equipment, suggesting that scalability will be highly feasible.

View this trial on

Interested in this trial?

Print this page and take it to your doctor to discuss your eligibilty and treatment options. Only your doctor can refer you to a clinical trial.


Canadian Cancer Society

These resources are provided in partnership with the Canadian Cancer Society