5 Tips for Talking to a Health Care Professional About Cancer-Related Pain


Communicating effectively with a health care professional about cancer-related pain is the first step to ensure proper pain management. However, it can be difficult to broach the topic of pain and to find the right words to describe it.

Below are five tips that may help when communicating with a health care professional about cancer pain.

  1. Do not be afraid to bring up the topic of pain. It is a physician’s job to treat the whole individual, and that treatment includes pain relief. Broaching the subject of pain is not a “bother” to a health care provider. Remember that pain does not always mean cancer is getting worse. It could be a sign of an infection, a treatment-related issue, or occur due to other causes. A health care provider can help identify and address the cause if they are aware that pain is an issue.
  2. Keep track of pain levels. Record pain levels on a daily basis. Take note of specific times when pain levels are low and when they are high. This way, even if pain levels are low on the day of an appointment, the health care provider can still see the overall trend. A record of pain levels, from an app such as PainScale, can also reveal things that make pain worse, such as certain treatments or activities. Identifying these patterns can make it easier to prevent or treat pain.
  3. Use descriptive words when talking about pain. It can be difficult to put a sensation like pain into words. However, using descriptive words can help the treating physician better diagnose and treat it. Examples of words that can help describe pain include burning, stinging, throbbing, sharp, dull, aching, tender, cramping, hot, shooting, heavy, pinching, stabbing, gnawing or radiating.
  4. Tell the doctor how pain impacts daily life. Another way to accurately describe pain is to talk about how it impacts self-care, work life, time spent with others, and participation in enjoyable activities. If the pain is severe enough that it affects self-care, work deadlines, social activities, or household chores, it is important that the treating physician is made aware of it.
  5. Share any concerns about pain management. Be sure to tell the treating physician if religious or cultural reasons prevent treatment with pain medications. If concerned about side effects from pain medications, ask the treating physician or pharmacist about potential side effects and how to handle them if they occur. While the risk of becoming addicted to pain medication is low when taken as prescribed, be honest with the health care professional if this is a concern. They may be able to prescribe a medication with a lower risk of addiction or other pain-relieving treatments.

Using these tips can help a health care professional better understand and treat an individual’s pain in the most effective way possible.

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