Cancer Pain

Pain is one of the most feared symptoms in people with cancer. But having cancer does not mean that you will have pain. Read on to learn more about causes and types of cancer pain, and what you can do about it.

What causes cancer pain?

Cancer pain can have a wide number of causes:
  • Cancer itself
    • A tumour can cause pain by causing pressure against a nerve, bone or organ. Starting therapy can relieve this
  • Medical procedures
  • Some tests such as biopsies, blood tests, lumbar punctures
  • Surgery to remove a tumour
  • Radiation therapy can cause pain
  • Some chemotherapy has side effects that can cause:
    • Mouth sores
    • Nerve pain
    • Joint and bone pain
    • Muscle pain
  • Muscle stiffness and tightness from not being as mobile
  • Fractures when cancer spreads to the bones
  • Infections or illness
  • Cancer treatments
  • Other causes

What to tell my doctor

1.    Where the pain is
2.    When it started
3.    What it feels like (dull ache, stabbing, throbbing)
4.    Rating on a scale from 1 to 10:
a.    When the pain is worst
b.    Average pain for the day
c.    When the pain is best
5.    What makes it feel better and what makes it worse
6.    What time it starts, how long it lasts and how often you get it
7.    The impact of the pain on your life
8.    What you have tried (medications, heat, cold, stretches) for your pain:
a.    How much it helped
b.    Any side effects

Acute pain

All of us have experienced acute pain. Whether it is a stubbed toe, a sore throat, or even surgery, these are pains that have a specific cause and go away once healing has taken place. In people with cancer this type of pain is usually caused by surgery, fractured bone, or a something like a blood test.
This pain is temporary, lasting minutes to several weeks. Acute pain goes away when healing occurs and is usually easily treated.

Chronic pain

Chronic pain is pain that has lasted for at least three months. Chronic pain may also be any recurrent pain that happens at least three times in the last three months. Chronic pain can be:
  • Persistent: Continuous pain
  • Recurrent: Frequent episodes of pain with a break in between.
Chronic pain in people with cancer can range from mild to severe. This type of pain is very hard on the person with cancer both physically and emotionally.

Breakthrough pain

When a person with cancer is prescribed medications for pain, it is normally designed to provide 24 hour pain control. Occasionally some people will experience breakthrough pain. This pain happens when the pain reliever’s effects wear off temporarily or when it is not strong enough to control the pain.
If a person with cancer has many episodes of breakthrough pain every day, then this could be a sign they need a change in their pain medication.

Talking about pain

Talking about pain is important for people with cancer. Your family, caregivers, friends and healthcare team want to do everything they can to make your cancer treatment as comfortable as possible. The only way they can do this is with good communication. Talking openly to the people who are there to help you is the only way to get your cancer pain under control.

Non-drug treatments

Managing pain is a very personal choice for cancer patients. Some non-drug treatments have worked to not only help lower pain but also anxiety and stress. Some of the most common treatments are biofeedback, cognitive behaviour therapy and relaxation therapy.


Pain medication

The choice of pain medications will be tailored based on your pain and how you respond to the treatment. If your pain is mild, you may only need to take the occasional over-the-counter pain medication. If it is more severe, your healthcare team will suggest a treatment that offers more pain relief.


Important information

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This information should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your doctor. There may be variations in treatment that your physician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances. If you have questions about your symptoms, ask the Pharmacist at Walmart for more information, and/or contact your doctor.
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