Overcoming pain caused by cancer

November 30, 2016 | by Matthew Siegel, MD

A cancer diagnosis should not mean you will always live your life in pain. Pain can diminish your motivation and energy level. When it is not properly treated, you may feel short tempered, tired, angry, worried, stressed or inpatient.

Since pain is one of the most common symptoms in cancer patients, it is important to recognize where it is coming from. Cancer pain can be caused by:

  • The cancer itself pressing on nerves, bones or organs
  • Chemicals the cancer releases in the area of the tumor
  • Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation and surgery

The severity of your pain depends on the type of cancer you have, where it is in your body, its stage and your tolerance for pain. Ranging from mild to very severe, the pain you feel may last a short period of time, occur several times a day or persist throughout the day.

The best way to control your pain is to prevent it from starting or keep it from getting worse. If you are in pain, the National Cancer Institute recommends you tell your healthcare team:

  • Where you have pain
  • What it feels like (sharp, dull, throbbing, constant, burning or shooting)
  • How strong your pain is
  • How long it lasts
  • What lessens your pain or makes it worse
  • When it happens (what time of day, what you’re doing)
  • If it gets in the way of daily activities

Your doctor may use a rating scale of 0 to 10 to have you describe your pain, where 0 means no pain at all and 10 is the worst pain you can ever imagine. This can help your doctor determine your pain and your level of tolerance.

It is also important for you to keep track of important details using a pain diary. A pain diary can help you remember:

  • Words used to describe the pain (like sharp, dull, throbbing, gnawing, burning or shooting)
  • Anything that seems to make the pain better or worse
  • Any activity you can or can’t do because of the pain
  • The name, dose and time you take your pain medications
  • Your pain rating and how long the pain medication works
  • How pain interferes with your normal activities
  • Any side affects you may have because of the pain medication

Palliative care specialists can help provide relief from pain and other symptoms of cancer. During cancer treatment, palliative care specialists can work with you and your oncologists to get your pain under control using various methods, such as medication and relaxation techniques, so you can get through treatment and carry on with life.

As you go through your cancer journey, know that pain can be controlled or reduced. Communicating with your healthcare team is key to managing pain. If your pain ever persists or interferes with your daily activities, speak up, so your doctor can help you get your quality of life back.

What are strategies you use to manage pain? Tell us in the below comments.

Learn more about palliative care at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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