Different cancers can cause different kinds of pain. Some people with cancer may experience bone pain, for example. But emotional pain can also result from a cancer diagnosis.
The two main types of pain are nociceptive pain and neuropathic pain. Tissue injury typically causes nociceptive pain, and nervous system or nerve-ending damage causes neuropathic pain.
But living with cancer doesn’t always mean living with pain. Treatment is available to help.
Cancer-related pain can happen for many reasons, including:
- tumor growth, with the mass putting pressure on other organs
- a side effect of cancer medications
- tissue damage from surgery
- nerve damage due to treatments such as chemotherapy
- skin inflammation due to radiation
Options depend on the type of cancer and what’s causing the pain.
If the pain is due to tissue or nerve damage, medications may help reduce pain and discomfort. Surgery is an option for pain due to tumor growth.
If you’re experiencing emotional pain, joining a cancer support group and leaning on family and friends may be beneficial. In some cases, medication may also help.
Whether the pain will be long term or short term depends on your personalized treatment plan and what’s causing the pain. For example, there’s a chance of permanent tissue damage during surgery.
Pain may also be a side effect of the medication you’re taking, but when you stop or finish taking the medication, the pain may stop. Never stop a medication without first talking with your doctor.
Every person reacts differently to treatment, and it’s important to discuss what to expect, including potential side effects, with your doctor.
Support groups or mediation can help you as you navigate cancer-related pain. It’s important to discuss symptoms with your doctor so they can help provide resources to help you cope with your diagnosis and understand potential treatment plans.
Always take medication as prescribed by your doctor. If you’re not feeling any relief, communicate this with your doctor. They can work with you to adjust the dose safely.
It’s also important to tell your doctor about all your medications to avoid dangerous drug interactions.
Discussion with your healthcare team is the most important factor in getting help for cancer-related pain.
Treatment is highly individualized, and what works for you may not work for someone else.
Your healthcare team likely includes many members, including nurses, doctors, pharmacists, social workers, and more. Don’t hesitate to speak with your team to voice concerns about your care.
Dr. Alyssa Walton is an experienced clinical pharmacist with a history of working in the hospital and healthcare industries. She has a passion for hospice, pain care, and palliative care. She practices in an oncology clinic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.