Cancer Pain

Cancer patients frequently experience chronic pain that can vary in intensity, type, and frequency.  The amount of pain depends on the type of cancer, its stage, and the patient’s tolerance to pain.  Cancer treatments like radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery can also damage nerves, tissue, and organs and cause pain.

Symptoms

The symptoms of cancer pain can include dull, achy, or sharp pain that varies in intensity, and whether the pain is constant or intermittent.

Causes

Cancer pain can be caused by a tumor pressing on a nerve or invading and damaging a bone or organ.

Spinal Cord Compressions

A tumor pressing on the spinal cord can cause back and/or neck pain, numbness or weakness that can affect the legs or arms.  Some patients struggle to control their bladder or bowels, and sudden movements like coughing or sneezing can make the pain worse.

Treatments

Patients have a variety of treatments to choose from including self care, medications, therapies, and surgery.

Self Care

Managing stress with meditation, yoga, and music can help reduce the perception of chronic pain.

Medications

Patients can treat mild to moderate pain with (OTC) pain medication, but should check with their doctor to avoid interference with other treatments like chemotherapy.  If the pain does not improve, physicians can treat pain with opioids (OxyContin) or anticonvulsants (Gabapentin), and muscle relaxers (Valium).  Corticosteroids (Sterapred) can reduce swelling and antidepressants (Amitriptyline) can help manage psychological conditions that make the perception of pain worse.

Therapies

Physicians may recommend acupuncture, physical, massage or talk therapy to help reduce and cope with cancer pain.

Nerve Block Injections

Nerve block injections can be used to numb a single nerve or small group of nerves causing pain in the lower back and leg.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy can destroy cancer cells that have spread (metastasized) away from the original tumor, anywhere in the body.  Chemo can also damage nerves (Peripheral Neuropathy) that cause pain, numbness and weakness in the legs and arms.

Radiation

Radiation therapy can kill or damage cancer cells in a specific area and cause pain from skin burns, scarring, mucositis, throat, intestine, and bladder injuries.

Surgery

Surgery can help remove solid tumors where the pain recovery period can last days to weeks.

To learn more about cancer pain, please visit the Mayo Clinic or American Cancer Society