Cancer pain can be related directly to the tumor, which may be pressing against bone, nerves, or other organs. Pain in particular areas of the body are associated with different types of cancer: lower back with colon or ovarian cancer; shoulder pain with lung cancer; and head with brain tumors (malignant and benign).
Is chemotherapy painful?
Cancer pain can also be caused by treatment procedures. Chemo headaches are common for two reasons: flu-like symptoms onset by biological therapies; the irritation in the lining of the brain and spinal column when therapies are given directly into the spinal fluid.
There is also referred pain, where pain feels like it is coming from a part of the body other than the one directly affected by the cancer. This usually occurs between an internal and an external body part. For example, a swollen liver can cause pain in the shoulder, since the liver presses against nerves that end in the shoulder.
Even after cancer is successfully treated, patients seek help. Chronic pain can be ongoing in the body, and Phantom pain can remain in a once-tumorous area. Treatment for cancer pain can be holistic or, if severe enough, pharmaceutical.
But what really drives patients to seek help is the chronic pain they experience long after the cancer has been treated.
- Post-mastectomy pain
- Post-radiation pain
- Post-surgical pain
- Chronic nerve pain
Doctors do not often talk to their patients about pain. It is its own area of treatment, stemming from targeting discomfort and addressing the pain directly. Emphasis should be placed on pain when dealing with cancer. Some doctors don't know enough about its treatment, when it should be addressed every visit. Pain specialists base their profession on it, and can play an essential role in the cancer-patient’s treatment.
Cancer-patients tend to be passive when it comes to the pain they are experiencing. They don't want to "bother" their doctors, even if they fear that the pain means the cancer is worsening. Others are worried their doctors will think of them as complainers or drug-seekers.
Due to current social concerns, the medical field has grown a reluctance to prescribe opioid medications. Maintaining a close working relationship with your cancer specialists is essential to proper use of these medications.
If you take medications recreationally, then the chance of being an addict is high. But the risk of addiction for people who take pain medications as directed for cancer pain is low (25%).
While opioids play a role in cancer pain management, other treatments complement them well or replace them altogether. Physical modalities target mechanical pain, and improve function and mobility. Injections may deliver a treatment directly to the source of pain, reducing the need for oral medications. Pain-psychology also plays a role in modulating fearful, pain-avoidance behaviors.
Opioid management is complex. It’s more than increasing the dose. It’s making sure you’re on the right medication and optimizing it for your specific needs. Discussion about side-effects, overdose, addiction, and safety around family members is part of the treatment.
You can develop a tolerance for your pain medication, which means you may need a higher dose to control your pain. Tolerance isn't addiction. If your medication isn't working as well as it once did, talk to your doctor about a higher dose, or a different medication. Don't increase the dose on your own.
Patients are often fearful of the side-effects: consistent drowsiness, uncommunicative responses, erratic behavior, or self-consciousness of dependence. You might have these side effects when you start taking strong pain medications, but they should resolve once your doctors find the correct level of pain medications for you. Communication is a two-way road – even between a healthcare professional and a patient.