What is cancer pain?
Cancer pain may be caused by the cancer or by treatments and tests used.
Cancer pain results from tissue damage – either due to the disease itself, or due to treatment (chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery).
It 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.
About two-thirds of patients experience significant cancer pain throughout the course of their disease.
Cancer and its treatments can be painful, but cancer pain can be managed.
What causes it?
Cancer pain can be caused 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. (eg 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.
There are many different medicines and methods available to control cancer 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 and nurse exactly how you feel is one of the most important parts of controlling pain. You should always report any new pain problems to the doctor or nurse.
Also, there are many cancer pain specialists available including oncologists, anesthesiologists, neurologists, neurosurgeons, nurses and pharmacists. A pain control team may also include psychologists, counselors and social workers.
Pain should be treated early. Pain control often starts with medicine. The type of medicine and the method by which the medicine is given depend on the type and cause of pain.
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 nerve pain, doctors may use nerve blocks (injections) to provide short-term pain relief by preventing the nerve from sending pain signals. Or sometimes medicine is delivered directly to the spine, as with spinal anesthesia or an epidural.
Non-drug treatments are now widely used to help manage cancer pain. There are many techniques that are used alone or along with medicine. Some people find they can take a lower dose of medicine with such techniques.
Treatments such as acupuncture, massage, meditation, and yoga may not cure cancer, but they have been proven affective at reducing pain, minimizing medical treatment side effects, and improving overall quality of life.
Learning as much as you can about your pain may help. Talking to a counselor can help you manage your cancer pain or the discomfort from cancer treatments. Emotional support from your friends and family may also help.