Everything You Need to Know About Cancer Pain


Types of pain from treatment include:

  • Spasms, stinging, and itching caused by intravenous chemotherapy
  • Mucositis in the mouth or other parts of the digestive system caused by chemotherapy or targeted therapy
  • Skin pain, rash or hand-foot syndrome caused by chemotherapy or targeted therapy
  • Pain in joints and muscles throughout the body caused by paclitaxel or aromatase inhibitor therapy
  • Osteonecrosis of the jaw caused by bisphosphonates given for cancer that has spread to the bone
  • Pain syndromes caused by radiation, including:
    • Pain from the position the patient stays in during radiation therapy
    • Inflammation in treated areas
    • Dermatitis in treated areas
    • Pain flare-ups

What a cancer pain management plan looks like

The most important thing to do if or when you experience pain is to quickly identify the source and treat it. To learn about your pain, your health care team will ask you to describe the pain. This helps them to figure out how to manage cancer pain most efficiently.

These questions may include:

  • When did the pain start?
  • How long does the pain last?
  • Where is the pain? You will be asked to show exactly where the pain is on your body or on a drawing of a body.
  • How strong is the pain?
  • Have there been changes in where or when the pain occurs?
  • What makes the pain better or worse?
  • Is the pain worse during certain times of the day or night?
  • Is there breakthrough pain (intense pain that flares up quickly even when pain control medicine is being used)?
  • Do you have symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, fatigue, depression, or anxiety?
  • Does pain get in the way of activities of daily life, such as eating, bathing, or moving around?

Your healthcare team will also take into account:

  • Past and current pain treatments
  • Prognosis (chance of recovery)
  • Other conditions you may have, such as kidney, liver, or heart disease
  • Your own choices

This information will be used in combination with a physical and neurological exam to decide how to manage cancer pain – more specifically, how to best relieve your pain. This may include pain relievers like prescription pain medication or other treatments like nerve blocks, cordotomy, radiation therapy (palliative care such as radiation therapy for cancer that has spread to the bones), as well as physical therapy and rehabilitation. Additionally, some cancer patients find pain relief from holistic therapies like acupuncture, hypnosis, massage and relaxation techniques.

February 4th is World Cancer Day

It’s a scary, confusing and isolating reality when you have cancer, but you aren’t alone in the fight. On February 4, 2019, people across the globe come together on World Cancer Day with a united message. The goal is to create a world without cancer and empower people through a collective voice that says, “I am and I will.”

In honor of World Cancer Day, we hope today’s overview of how to create a pain management plan gives you hope. It all starts with being informed, empowered and supported.

If you or someone you love is battling or has survived cancer, raise your voice and share your story to promote World Cancer Day. Learn more about the initiative here:

What is your best tip that helps you manage cancer pain?

Tell us in the comments. 


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