Many cancer patients experience pain due to their disease process or its treatment. As much as half of all cancer patients experience pain severe enough to require treatment, more so with those in advanced stages. Having cancer does not mean that you must live with severe pain or with no recourse. More than 90% of all cancer patients can benefit from a variety of effective treatments to ease symptoms and allow resumption of more normal activities.
What are the causes of cancer pain?
When cancer causes pain, probable causes include stretching of nerve endings in the affected tissue, the pressure of a tumor on one of the body’s organs, or on bone or nerves. Sometimes cancer can cause pain when blood vessels or spinal canal become obstructed by the tumor.
Chemotherapy can cause numerous side effects, depending on the medication being used. Some of the more common side effects that cause pain include peripheral neuropathy, mouth sores, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramps. Some people also experience bone and joint pain from chemotherapy medications and from some medications used to offset the impact of the chemotherapy on blood counts and on the risk of infection.
Surgical treatments will, in some instances, produce pain even well after healing. Procedures related to cancer pain, such as biopsies, blood draws, lumbar punctures, laser treatments, etc. are also potential causes of pain.
What treatment options are available?
Treatments range from simple pain relieving medications (NSAIDS, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, narcotics); to spinal, joint and trigger point injections for nerve, musculoskeletal and soft tissue pain; to destruction of nerve endings carrying the pain signals; to implantable medication pumps that deliver pain medications directly to the spinal cord to interrupt pain transmission.
In conjunction with these treatments, physical therapy is encouraged as well as many complementary therapies such as naturopathic modalities, traditional Chinese medicine including acupuncture and herbal medicine, hypnosis, counseling and psychotherapy, dietary counseling, massage therapy. Physical therapy can provide gentle stretch and strengthening programs to augment your treatment.