Chemotherapy is a common treatment for cancer. It involves the use of powerful drugs to stop cancer cells from growing and spreading.
Although the treatment itself isn’t usually uncomfortable, pain is sometimes a side effect. Side effects can depend on the type of cancer you have, your overall health, and the type of chemotherapy drug you receive.
Keep reading to find out more about the potential pain during and after chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy drugs are administered in a variety of ways, including:
- via intravenous (IV) line
- via ports
- via injections
- taken orally
Chemotherapy via IV line
During this procedure, which takes only 1 to 2 minutes, a medical professional inserts a needle into a vein in your hand or wrist.
The needle contains a thin plastic tube called a catheter, which allows the drugs to flow directly into your bloodstream. Once the catheter is in place, the needle is removed.
You might feel a mild prickling sensation at the site where the IV is inserted. This should go away shortly after the professional removes the needle and secures the catheter in place.
Most people experience little to no discomfort when having an IV inserted.
The professional will remove the catheter when the treatment is over. In some cases, it’s left in for up to 3 days.
Chemotherapy via ports
Other types of IV catheters, known as ports, can be left in the body for much longer.
These options are used to reduce the number of needles required, to deliver multiple drugs at the same time, and to administer longer-term treatments.
Inserting a port takes around 30 minutes, although you’ll likely stay at the hospital for longer.
When the port is inserted, you’ll be given a local anesthetic. You shouldn’t feel any pain. However, you might notice some mild discomfort later that day, after the anesthetic wears off.
Chemotherapy via injections
In other cases, chemotherapy drugs are delivered via injections.
The pain from a chemotherapy injection is comparable to the pain from any other injection, such as a vaccine.
Chemotherapy taken orally
Chemotherapy may be administered orally using pills or tablets. This treatment is painless.
Pain is a potential side effect of chemotherapy.
The pain caused by chemotherapy is often described as a burning, numb, tingling, or shooting sensation. It tends to occur in the hands and feet.
This is called neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain is the result of damage to the nerves caused by chemotherapy drugs or, sometimes, the cancer itself.
Other types of pain associated with chemotherapy include:
- muscle and joint pain
- stomach aches
Pain caused by chemotherapy should be manageable. Your doctor can prescribe medication to help ease the pain.
It’s important to take pain medication as prescribed. This may involve following a schedule, so you can stay ahead of any potential pain. Don’t wait until your pain is overwhelming to take your pain-relief medication.
Keep in mind that your pain levels may fluctuate throughout your treatment. Many cancer treatment resources recommend keeping a record of when and where you feel pain, what it feels like, and how strong it is.
Speak with your healthcare team about how pain affects your day-to-day activities. They can help you manage any side effects or discomfort you may be experiencing.
Complementary treatments that may ease pain
The following complementary treatments can be used to reduce the pain caused by cancer and chemotherapy:
- acupuncture and acupressure
- deep breathing
- massage therapy
- physical therapy
Talk with someone from your healthcare team to learn more about alternative treatments for pain relief.
The side effects of chemotherapy vary from one person to the next. Some people may experience few side effects, while others experience many. It depends on the individual and the type of drug administered.
Most side effects of chemotherapy start during treatment and go away once you finish treatment. However, certain changes can be permanent.
Some potential short- and long-term side effects of chemotherapy are listed in the table below.
|Short-term effects||Long-term effects|
changes in appetite
changes in memory and cognition
changes in sexual function
changes in skin, hair, and nails
nausea and vomiting
increased risk of other cancers
loss of taste
It’s important to keep your healthcare team informed of any side effects you experience during chemotherapy, including pain.
Your doctor can adjust your treatment plan or prescribe additional medication to reduce side effects, such as pain, nausea, or diarrhea.
Chemotherapy is a drug-based treatment for cancer.
It’s commonly administered intravenously, although some chemotherapy drugs are injected or taken orally. While this treatment may cause discomfort, it isn’t typically painful.
Pain caused by nerve damage is a potential short-term effect of chemotherapy. Sometimes, pain caused by chemotherapy persists after finishing treatment.
Talk with your doctor or oncologist if you’re experiencing pain related to chemotherapy. They can help you manage your pain, so it doesn’t interfere with your quality of life.