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Cancer Pain Relief

Info on Cancer Pain and How to Treat It

Virtually all forms of cancer are accompanied by some degree of pain, particularly as the disease reaches its more developed stages. Cancer pain has numerous causes; some forms of pain arise from the tumors themselves, as they put pressure on surrounding nerves, muscles and tissues. Other types of cancer pain are caused by treatments -- surgery, chemotherapy and radiation can all cause pain side effects. Finally, cancer pain sometimes results from chemical byproducts produced by the body and the brain as it fights off cancer cells.

The under-treatment of cancer pain is a recognized problem in the medical community. It typically results from one or more of the following causes:

  • Doctors fail to inquire whether or not the patient is in pain, or only ask about pain in a generalized, rather than specific, way
  • Patients do not speak up about the type of pain they are experiencing, or its severity
  • The patient is fearful of developing a dependency on painkillers, or does not want to add to an already high medication load
  • The patient does not want to risk developing any more side effects from treatment

Cancer pain can be severe and should be treated. Doctors should make asking cancer patients about pain a routine part of every checkup, and patients should never be reluctant to speak up about pain symptoms. Medications and treatments which cause few side effects and have little risk of dependency are available.

Info on Cancer Pain: Management Strategies

The preferred method of managing cancer pain is to directly address its root cause. If it is resulting from the location of a tumor, surgical excision of the tumor may be recommended, if it is operable. Should pain be a side effect of certain treatments, the patient will be given the option to stop those treatments; though, it is important to note that this can alter their prognosis.

If the pain is being caused by an inoperable tumor, doctors will usually focus on a palliative management strategy. In other words, keeping the patient comfortable becomes the most important aspect of treatment. When the pain cannot be treated by identifying and eliminating its underlying cause, medications are usually used. They typically take one of three forms:

  • Over the counter (OTC) medications. Acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium can all help mild cases of cancer pain. These drugs are inexpensive, widely available, and carry very little risk of serious side effects.
  • Mild opioid analgesics. Opioids are a class of drugs which are derived from natural or synthetic opium, and they are among the most effective painkillers known to medicine. If you are in mild to moderate pain, or if your pain does not respond to over the counter drugs, your doctor may start you on a mild opioid, such as codeine or hydrocodone. These drugs carry some risk of dependency and are known to cause side effects, though, so weigh your desire for relief against the potential risks.
  • Powerful opioid analgesics. Generally, these are reserved for palliative care and situations in which the cancer is believed to be terminal. Strong opioids included substances like fentanyl, hydromorphone, methadone, oxycodone and morphine. They are effective at relieving pain in the vast majority of cases.

If you are a cancer patient and you are experiencing lingering pain that does not go away, be sure to discuss it with your oncologist or treatment team. One of the things you may be asked to do is rate its intensity, specify its location, and identify any triggers which seem to cause or worsen it. If you keep this in mind when you make an appointment, you may be able to help your doctor provide you with faster and more effective relief.