If you’ve ever wondered, “why is cancer painful?” well, you are likely one of the many individuals experiencing cancer pain. Not all people who have cancer will experience this pain, but it is quite common and typically more severe in those with more advanced stages of cancer. Here we will explore the causes of cancer pain and how you can communicate this pain to your healthcare team and seek treatment for it.
Causes of Cancer Pain
Cancer patients often experience pain throughout their diagnosis and treatment. There are a few different typical causes of cancer pain, which can be divided into two types of causes. The first cause of cancer pain is due to cancer itself. The second cause of cancer pain comes from any treatments, tests, or side effects that come when treating cancer.
The amount of pain a person has with cancer will depend on several factors — such as their overall health, the stage and extent of the cancer, any other health problems they may have, and their pain tolerance. Individuals who have advanced cancer are typically more likely to experience cancer pain.
Cause #1: The Cancer Itself
The pain caused by cancer is typically due to the cancerous cells growing into or damaging the tissues around them. As these cells grow into larger tumors, they can also place pressure on the various nerves, organs, and bones in your body. This can also cause pain. You may also feel pain if your cancer spreads into your bones.
Cause #2: Painful Treatments or Tests
Unfortunately, pain is one of the most common symptoms that cancer patients experience. But some of this pain can come from the treatments you are getting to help combat the cancerous cells. This is because many cancer treatments can be hard on the body. Treatments like medications, surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and other procedures can all cause pain.
Anyone who has had surgery before will tell you that it is painful and it takes time to recover. Surgical procedures are used to remove tumors and cancerous cells in a patient with cancer. Depending on the surgery you get, you can expect the pain to last a few days or weeks. Typically, you can use pain medications to help combat this post-procedure pain.
Phantom pain typically occurs after a procedure or surgery. This pain persists long after the typical post-operation pain has gone away and can be difficult to pinpoint or treat. This pain makes it feel like the area of your body that has been removed (such as a breast if you had one removed due to breast cancer) is causing pain. This type of pain can be exceptionally challenging to treat, but medications, physical therapy, and other similar treatments can help mitigate this pain.
Side Effects of Chemotherapy or Radiation Treatments
Treatments like radiation therapy and chemotherapy are very taxing on our bodies. These treatments can cause many side effects that can cause you pain in your daily life. The most common painful side effect of chemotherapy and other radiation treatments is peripheral neuropathy. This is when you experience pain, tingling, burning, numbness, weakness, or unusual sensations in your feet, legs, arms, or hands. These symptoms can make walking or using your hands more challenging. This side effect is caused by nerve damage that can happen during certain radiation treatments or when a tumor is pressing against a nerve.
Procedure or Testing Pain
The unfortunate truth is that some procedures or tests used to diagnose cancer or see how your treatment is progressing can be painful. It is always a good idea to ask your healthcare team if the procedure or test you are having causes pain or discomfort so that you can prepare and work to treat it after the procedure. Typically, pain medications are a good solution for this type of cancer pain, though it is always best to consult with your healthcare team before taking anything.
How to Communicate Your Type of Pain
Communicating your pain to your cancer care team is essential. But, to do this effectively, so they can help you get the treatment you need, you need to know how to describe it accurately — and frequently.
Some things you’ll need to share with your healthcare team are:
- When the pain started
- The severity of the pain
- What the pain feels like (dull, aching, stabbing, burning, sharp)
- How long does the pain typically last
- Where the pain is located
- What makes the pain feel worse (and better)
- Does the pain get in the way of your daily activities
- Your past and current pain treatments
- Your past and current medical history
Discussing these points with your healthcare provider can help them ensure that you get the right treatment plan for your pain.
How to Manage Cancer Pain Medicine
Several cancer pain medications can be used to treat your cancer pain. These include opioid-based medications, steroid-based medications, anti-inflammatory medications, and other medications (like antidepressants or local anesthetics). Your healthcare team will provide you with the medications you need based on your pain. This is another reason why knowing how to communicate the level and type of pain you are experiencing is essential.
Because many of these medications are much stronger than typical over-the-counter medications, you will need prescriptions from your healthcare team to use them. These will typically also detail exactly what dosage and how long you should take each medication, making managing your cancer pain medication much simpler for you.
Non-Drug Related Treatment
Many non-medicinal treatment options can help someone with cancer pain manage their symptoms. Some of the most common treatment methods are relaxation techniques, skin stimulation (such as massage or temperature shifts), emotional support, acupuncture, nerve blocks, and distraction or imagery practices.
Many of these treatment options will work for some people but not others so it is important to talk to your cancer care team to find the best treatment options for your particular situation.
Why Carolinas Pain Center?
While not everyone with cancer experiences cancer pain, it is likely that at some point in your battle against your cancer, you will need a cancer pain treatment plan. These plans can contain a mixture of medical and non-medical treatments and evolve with you as your pain gets better, worsens, or simply changes into something different.
If you are currently dealing with cancer pain, many treatments may bring you relief. To get the support you need to find the best treatment plan, contact Carolinas Pain Center today to make an appointment.