What is cancer pain?

Cancer Pain

Cancer pain

Cancer pain may be caused by cancer or by medical procedures used to diagnose or treat the cancer, like radiation or surgery.

There are many ways to treat cancer pain. Tell your doctor about your pain. Getting it treated can improve your quality of life at every stage of the disease.

Cancer pain can be controlled in almost every case. You may not be pain-free, but the pain can usually be kept at a level you can bear.

What are the different types of cancer pain?

Common types of cancer pain are bone pain, nerve pain, and visceral pain. Bone pain may cause a deep, aching pain. Nerve pain can cause a burning feeling. Visceral pain may be hard to describe. Cancer pain may last a short time (acute) or come and go over a long time (chronic).

What treatments can help you manage cancer pain?

Medical treatments to manage cancer pain include:

  • Prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Many types of medicines are used. Your doctor may suggest different combinations of medicines.
  • Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy. These may be used to remove or destroy a tumor that is causing pain.
  • Nerve treatments. These are used to help with nerve pain. They include:
    • A nerve block that uses medicine injected near the nerve.
    • A nerve surgery that cuts the nerve to stop the pain.
    • Other treatments, such as injecting a chemical or using heat or cold, to destroy the nerve and stop the pain.

Nonmedical treatments include:

  • Physical therapy, gentle massage, acupuncture, and heat or cold to ease pain.
  • Stretching, yoga, and exercises to help you keep your strength, flexibility, and mobility.
  • Relaxation, biofeedback, and meditation to relieve stress and anxiety.
  • Counseling. This may help you manage your cancer pain or the pain from treatments.
  • Education and emotional support. Learning as much as you can about your pain may help. So can sharing your feelings with others. A support group can be a safe and comfortable place to talk about your illness.

Cancer pain: What treatments other than pain medicines can help?

Many medical treatments can be used to manage cancer pain. Other treatments may help when medicines are not enough to relieve pain.

Treatments for painful tumors.

Options to shrink, remove, or destroy painful tumors include:

  • Surgery.
  • Chemotherapy.
  • Radiation.
  • Hormone therapy.
  • Radiofrequency ablation. This uses heat to destroy a tumor.
Treatments for nerve pain.

These include:

  • Surgery to cut the nerves that relay pain.
  • Nerve blocks.
  • Medicine put into or near the spine (for example, spinal anesthesia).
  • Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS).

How are medicines for cancer pain given?

Medicines for cancer pain are usually taken by mouth. But medicine can be given in other ways if you have trouble swallowing or need faster pain relief. For example, pain medicine can be given as a shot, a rectal suppository, or a skin patch.

Who can diagnose and treat cancer pain?

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 specialists 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.

How can you manage cancer pain?

Your doctor needs all the information you can give about what your pain feels like. It often helps to write things down in a pain diary.

  • Write down when your pain starts, what it feels like, and how long it lasts. Use words like dull, aching, sharp, shooting, throbbing, or burning.
  • Note changes in your pain. Is it constant, or does it come and go? Do you have more than one kind of pain? How long does it last?
  • Rate your pain on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain you can imagine.
  • Write exactly where you feel pain. You can use a drawing. Say whether the pain is just in that one place or several places at once. Or tell your doctor if it travels from one place to another.
  • Write down what makes your pain better or worse. Note when you used a treatment, how well it worked, and any side effects.

If you and your doctor are not able to control your pain, ask about seeing a pain specialist. A pain specialist is a health professional who focuses on treating resistant pain.

Talk to your doctor if you are having problems with depression. Treating depression can make it easier to manage your cancer pain.

What nonmedical treatments may help you cope with cancer pain?

Counseling, including cognitive behavioral therapy, may help you manage cancer pain or the pain from cancer treatments. Integrative practices, such as acupuncture, massage, and relaxation exercises, are helpful for some people with cancer pain. Ask your doctor if you think you might want to try one of these.

What can cause cancer pain?

Cancer and its treatments can be painful. A tumor that presses on bones, nerves, or organs can cause pain. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation can also cause pain.

What is cancer pain?

Cancer pain may be caused by the cancer or by the treatments and tests used. The pain may make it hard for you to do your normal activities, such as sleeping or eating. Over time, cancer pain can cause appetite and sleep problems, isolation, and depression.

But most cancer pain can be managed with medicines and other methods. This may not mean that you have no pain but that it stays at a level that you can bear. Treating your pain will make you feel better. You will be more active, eat and sleep better, and enjoy your family and friends.

How can a cancer pain diary help you and your doctor?

Your doctor needs to understand your pain to treat it effectively. The more specific you can be about your pain, the better. It often helps to write everything down. Some people use a pain diary for this.

You can help by telling your doctor:

  • Exactly where you feel pain. Is the pain just in one place? Is it in several places at the same time? Or is it moving from one place to another?
  • What your pain feels like. Use words such as dull, aching, sharp, shooting, or burning.
  • When your pain started and how long it has lasted.
  • How bad it is on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the worst pain you can imagine.
  • If the pain is constant or if it comes and goes.
  • What makes your pain better or worse.
  • About any changes in your pain.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.