What causes Cancer Pain?
Pain can be caused by the cancer itself. Pain could happen if the cancer grows into or destroys nearby tissue. As a tumor grows, it can press on nerves, bones or organs. The tumor can also release chemicals that can cause pain.
Treatment of the cancer can help the pain in these situations. However, cancer treatments, including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, also can cause pain.
Treating Cancer Pain
A number of treatments are available for cancer pain. Your options may depend on what’s causing your cancer pain and the intensity of the pain you’re feeling. You may need a combination of pain treatments to find the most relief.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers. For mild and moderate levels of pain, pain relievers that don’t require a prescription may help. Examples include aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others).
- Medications derived from opium (opioids). Opioids are prescription medications used to treat moderate to severe pain. Examples of opioids include morphine (Kadian, Ms Contin, others) and oxycodone (Oxycontin, Roxicodone, others). Some opioids are short-acting medicines, so pain relief comes quickly but you may need to take them more often. Other opioid drugs are long-acting medicines, so pain relief takes longer but the medicine doesn’t need to be taken as often. Sometimes short-acting and long-acting opioids are used together.
- Other prescription medicines. Other types of medicine can help relieve pain, including antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs and steroids.
- Procedures to block pain signals. A nerve block procedure can be used to stop pain signals from being sent to the brain. In this procedure, a numbing medicine is injected around or into a nerve.
- Integrative therapies. Some people find some pain relief through acupuncture, massage, physical therapy, relaxation exercises, meditation and hypnosis.
Other treatments may be available for your particular situation. In some places, it may be legal to use medical marijuana for cancer pain.
All pain medicines have side effects. Work with your doctor to understand the benefits and risks of each pain treatment and how to manage the side effects. Together you can decide which treatments may be best for you.
Understanding Your Pain
How can you help your doctor understand your cancer pain?
If the pain interferes with your life or is persistent, report it. It might help to keep track of your pain by jotting down:
- How severe the pain is
- What type of pain (stabbing, dull, achy) you have
- Where you feel the pain
- What brings on the pain
- What makes the pain worse or better
- What pain relief measures you use, such as medication, massage, and hot or cold packs, how they help and any side effects they cause