Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 19 May 2022
Cancer can be a painful condition to suffer from. You don't have to accept pain as a result of having cancer. Managing pain, including medical visits and examinations, is another alternative to take control of your treatment.
If you're in pain, it might affect anything from your sleep and appetite to even the simplest everyday activities. Emotions may be affected by pain as well.
If you’re in pain, let your doctor know. This might indicate that you have an infection, that your cancer is spreading, or that your cancer treatment is failing.
The only one who knows how cancer pain feels in your body is you. You'll want to know what it is, how to talk about it, and how to get the help you need to live your life. You may even want to learn how to describe the pain you are going through, to help the doctor better understand you.
Cancer pain can manifest itself in many ways. Here are the common causes:
Pain from cancer:
Compression: A tumor's growth may compress nearby nerves and organs, causing pain. When a tumour spreads to the spine, it can press on the spinal cord's nerves, causing pain (spinal cord compression).
Metastases: If the cancer spreads (metastasizes), you may experience pain in other parts of the body. It is common for cancer to spread to the bone, which is very painful.
Pain from cancer treatment:
Pain may be caused by cancer surgeries, medications, and tests. Surgical pain, pain from side effects, and pain from testing are also examples of pain associated with cancer, even though it is not actually related to the cancer.
Surgery to remove a tumour, for example, may cause pain that lasts for days or weeks.
The pain may lessen with time and eventually go away, however you will require a medication from your doctor to help you manage it.
Side effect pain
Radiation and chemotherapy treatments may have unpleasant side effects, such as:
- radiation burns
- mouth sores
- peripheral neuropathy
Pain, burning, weakness, tingling, or numbness in the feet, legs, hands, or arms are symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.
Some cancer tests are invasive and can be painful. The below are examples of pain-inducing tests:
- lumbar puncture – removal of fluid from the spine
- Biopsy – Removal of tissue
- endoscopy – inserting a tube-like instrument for visualisation
Every individual is different. The degree of cancer pain is determined by the type, stage, and whether you have a low or high pain tolerance. Most people may experience it in one of three different ways:
- Acute pain: It hurts a lot at first, but it gets better quickly. Acute pain informs your body that you've been hurt, and it recovers along with you.
- Chronic pain: This type of pain lasts a long time. It can be a dull throb or a sharp throb, and it can affect your life in a variety of ways. You should treat it with painkillers, even though it won't go away entirely.
- Breakthrough pain: You can sometimes experience a flash of pain if you take medications to relieve chronic pain. As it subsides the effects of your medicine, this is referred to as “breakthrough pain." It usually happens instantly, lasts a short time, and has a powerful pain.
Tell Your Doctor
Your doctor might not often inquire as to whether or not you are in pain. It's up to you to express your pain and seek assistance.
Discuss any religious or cultural reasons for your aversion to taking medications, if there are any. Set aside any concerns you may have about appearing weak. Saying what you're thinking is really a sign of strength. And you have earned the right to be as happy as possible.
Keep track of your pain before your visit so you can be as specific as possible with your doctor. Use the following questions as a starting point:
- Which part of your body hurts the most?
- How does it make you feel? Sharp or dull? Is it a burning sensation or a throbbing sensation? Shooting or steady?
- How severe is the pain on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most severe?
- How long is it going to last?
- What is it that makes you feel better? When you're lying down? Putting a little heat on it? Massage the affected area?
- Can it improve as a result of treatment?
Bring your responses, as well as all prescriptions, vitamins, and over-the-counter medications, to your appointment.
The first decision to consider is removing the cancer through surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. If none of these options are feasible – or if you are awaiting a procedure – prescription medicine will help control the pain.
Pain medications are grouped into three types:
- Over-the-counter and prescriptions: These are used to treat moderate pain, fever, and swelling. Acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen are some of the most common types.
- Weak opioids: Codeine, for example, is used in prescription-strength cough syrup.
- Strong opioids: These are the most efficient, as the name implies. Fentanyl, methadone, morphine, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), and oxycodone are some examples (Oxycontin).
Many opioids may be taken by mouth, in pill or liquid form. Some may be inserted into the cheeks or under the tongue.
If you are unable to take drugs orally, you might be able to receive them by IV, suppository, or skin patch. Make sure you understand how much to take, how much to take it, and how long it takes to function if your doctor prescribes a new drug.
Ask your doctor these questions, as well as a few others, to ensure you get the most out of each dose:
- What are the negative side effects?
- Should I call you if the pain doesn't go away even after taking a higher dose?
- What is the expected duration of this prescription?
- Is it necessary for me to take it with food?
- What if I forget to bring it with me?
- Is there anything else I can take with this?
- Is it possible for me to become addicted to this medication?
- Is it possible to take too much of this medication?
- What is the best way to store this medication?
- Is there anything else that can be done?
If medication is not enough to relieve pain, doctors can try a treatment that blocks pain signals from reaching the brain.
A nerve block is when a doctor injects medicine into a nerve or spin to alleviate pain. Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS) is a pain-relieving technique that employs a small power pack and a mild current. You should wear it or take it around with you.
There are also a variety of non-medical options. Relaxation, distraction, and massages all send positive signals to the body. Acupuncture, hypnosis, or biofeedback, which uses a computer to provide knowledge to help you regulate your body, are all options. Yoga, tai chi, and reiki are also good options if the body is up to it. Meditation, prayer, and the company of loved ones can also be helpful in getting you through each day.
Referenced on 4/5/2021
- American Cancer Society: “Cancer pain."
- Mayo Clinic: “Cancer pain: Relief is possible."
- National Cancer Institute: “Pain Control: Support for People With Cancer."
- Acute, chronic, and breakthrough pain. (2019).
- Cervical spondylosis (arthritis of the neck). (2015).
- Comorbidity. (2012).
- Facts about cancer pain. (2019).
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018). Cancer pain: Relief is possible.