What Causes Cancer-Related Pain?


There are several possible causes of cancer-related pain. Some of the most common causes include the cancer itself, diagnostic tests, cancer treatments, and phantom pain.

The cancer itself

Tumors can press on the nerves, bones, muscles, or organs, especially as they grow larger, causing pain. If tumors press on the spinal cord, compression of the spinal cord can occur, which can cause neck or back pain. If cancer starts in or spreads to the bones, it can cause bone pain. Cancer cells also release chemicals that create inflammation and pain.

Diagnostic tests

Some tests used to diagnose cancer or check its progression can cause pain. Examples include biopsies and aspiration tests.

Chemotherapy and radiation

Pain is often a side effect of chemotherapy and radiation. Examples include the following:

  • Peripheral neuropathy (pain, numbness, or weakness in the hands, feet, arms, or legs due to nerve damage caused by chemotherapy or radiation)
  • Sores in the mouth and throat
  • Skin burns or other pain from external radiation


Surgery is often used to remove tumors. Post-surgical pain and discomfort can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks following surgery.

Phantom pain

If part of the body, such as an arm, leg, or breast, is surgically removed as part of cancer treatment, phantom pain can develop. Phantom pain involves pain that is felt in the absent or “phantom” body part even though it is no longer there.

Identifying the cause of pain can help medical professionals determine the best pain management treatments.

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