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Cancer Pain Overview

Cancer Pain Overview

Cause of cancer pain.

Cancer pain may be caused by the cancer or by the treatments and tests used. Cancer treatment does not always cause pain. But out of every 10 adults with cancer, between 1 and 3 of them report having pain caused by the treatment. Out of every 10 children with cancer, as many as 6 report having pain caused by treatment.

Pain may also be caused by an infection, such as shingles, that may develop because of the cancer or its treatment. The kind of pain may vary depending on the cause. The first step in managing your pain is understanding what is causing it.

Pain from the cancer itself can happen when:

  • A cancer growth, or tumor, presses on bones, nerves, or organs.

  • Cancer cells spread to the bone and destroy it.

  • A tumor presses on the spinal cord, causing pain in the back, legs, or neck.

  • A tumor causes organs to swell or be blocked. For example, a bowel obstruction can be caused by a tumor.

Because some cancer spreads far and fast, treatments have to be strong. As a result, they often cause pain and other side effects that require more treatment. Pressure on or damage to a nerve may cause tingling or burning. Treatments such as surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy may also cause pain.

What Does It Feel Like?  

The type of cancer pain you feel depends on the type of cancer you have and how it affects your body. For example:

  • Deep, aching pain . A tumor that presses on your bones or grows into your bones can cause deep, aching pain. Bone pain is the most common type of cancer pain.

  • Burning pain . A tumor that presses on a nerve can cause a burning feeling. Sometimes chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery damages nerves and causes burning pain. Nerve pain is the second most common type of cancer pain.

  • Phantom pain . Pain that is felt in the area where an arm or a breast has been removed is phantom pain. Although the body part is gone, nerve endings at the site still send pain signals to the brain. The brain thinks the body part is still there.

Acute pain is bad pain that lasts a short time. Chronic pain is pain that comes and goes for a long time. It is a side effect of the cancer or treatment. Chronic pain can range from mild to severe.

Not everyone feels pain in the same way. Only you can describe how much pain you have. The key to getting your pain under control is being able to tell your doctor what it feels like and what does and doesn’t work for you.  

Can cancer pain be controlled?

Cancer pain can be controlled in almost every case. This does not mean that you have no pain, but that it stays at a level that you can bear.

Cancer and its treatments can be painful. A tumor that presses on bones, nerves, or organs can cause pain. Surgery for cancer can cause pain. So can chemotherapy and radiation. There are a number of ways to control each of these kinds of pain.

You are the only person who can say how much pain you have, or if a certain pain medicine is working for you. Telling your doctor exactly how you feel is one of the most important parts of controlling pain.

When to Call a Doctor  

If you have cancer, call your doctor if any of the following occur:

  • You have new pain.

  • Your drugs or other treatments are no longer working.

  • Your pain medicine is not working long enough after each dose.

  • You have new symptoms, such as having a hard time walking, eating, or urinating.

  • You have side effects, such as nausea or vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea.

  • Your pain makes it hard for you to do your daily activities, such as eating or sleeping.

Who to See

The following health professionals can help treat cancer pain:

  • Internist

  • Family medicine physician

  • Surgeon

  • Medical oncologist

  • Radiation oncologist

  • Anesthesiologist

  • Nurse practitioner

  • Physician assistant

  • Neurologist

Your pain may be managed by a team that may include doctors (including pain or palliative care specialists), nurses, psychologists, social workers, and pharmacists. Be sure that all the members of your health care team know about any changes in your pain control diary. You may wish to use one person, such as your medical oncologist, as a team leader who will make sure that all team members share information.  

What does your doctor need to know?

The more specific you can be about your pain, the more your doctor will be able to treat it. It often helps to write everything down. Include:

  • When your pain started, what it feels like, and how long it has lasted.

  • Any changes in your pain.

  • If the pain is constant or if it comes and goes.

  • If you have more than one kind of pain. Use words such as dull, aching, sharp, shooting, or burning.

  • What makes your pain better or worse.

  • A rating of your pain on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the worst pain you can imagine.

Tell your doctor exactly where you feel pain. You can use a drawing. Say if the pain is just in one place, if it is in several places at once, or if it moves from one place to another.

How is cancer pain managed?

Pain control often starts with medicine. Many drugs are used to treat pain. You and your doctor may need to adjust your medicine as your pain changes. Your doctor may suggest different drugs, combinations of drugs, or higher doses.

For a tumor that causes pain, removing or destroying all or part of the tumor, if possible, often helps. Doctors use chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery to do this.

There are many other ways to control cancer pain, including:

  • Heat or cold.

  • Splints or braces.

  • Massage.

  • Treatments that help you cope better with the pain, such as relaxation exercises, biofeedback, or guided imagery.

  • Drugs you can buy without a prescription, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen.

  • Stronger drugs your doctor can prescribe. These include:

  • Drugs that relieve pain and swelling.

  • Mouthwashes that help with mouth sores.

  • Very strong painkillers.

  • Drugs used to treat depression. These drugs can relieve pain and help you sleep.

  • Some of the drugs used to treat seizures. These drugs help control burning and tingling pain caused by nerve damage.

  • Skin creams that help relieve pain.

Nerve blocks may help with very bad pain. Drugs are injected right into the nerve that affects the painful area. They provide short-term pain relief by preventing the nerve from sending pain signals.

Learning as much as you can about your pain may help. Emotional support from your friends and family may also help. Many people use other kinds of treatment, such as acupuncture and aromatherapy.

What is a pain control diary?

This is a record of your pain treatment and how it helped or did not help you. You can write down when you used each treatment, how it worked, and any side effects it caused. Having it written down helps you let your health care team know exactly how well your treatment is working.

Will you get addicted to pain medicine?

Some pain medicines can cause your body to keep expecting the medicine if it is used for longer than a week or so. This is called a drug dependency. Dependency is not the same as addiction. Addiction is a behavioral disorder in which a person has a craving for the drug. This craving may not even be related to the level of pain.

Many people who take pain medicine worry about getting addicted. Addiction to pain medicine is rare if you have not had a problem with addiction in the past and you take your medicine as directed under your doctor’s care.

Do not let your fear about becoming addicted get in the way of pain relief. Ask for pain relief if you need it. Pain is easier to control when you treat it as soon as it starts. You may also be able to predict pain and treat it before it begins, such as before physical activity. Pain is harder to control if you wait until it is bad.

Reference from Healthwise – Source


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