Cancer-Related Pain — Finding Relief from Cancer Pain

Experiencing cancer pain

Cancer pain is a symptom that many with a new diagnosis or progression of the disease fear. Fortunately, most of the pain experienced by cancer patients is not due to the cancer itself, but by a variety of other causes and side effects. Of course, each person with cancer experiences pain in a different way, and many experience impaired function, financial strain, distress and grief over physical changes.

Cancer pain is a direct result of the effects of cancer on body tissues such as nerves, bones and organs. Cancer pain is not the same as pain that results from cancer treatments or worsening of other pain disorders (such as arthritis) during cancer treatment. In fact, cancer pain and other causes of pain can be seen together in cancer survivors.

All types of pain, including cancer pain, can be divided into somatic, visceral and neuropathic varieties based on the tissue that is causing the pain.  Somatic and visceral pain is caused by damage or irritation of pain receptors (nociceptors) in the body’s tissues and organs.  For instance, the outer lining of bones (called the periosteum) or the liver capsule may be irritated by cancer, causing somatic and visceral pain respectively.  Somatic pain is usually localized to the area where the damage has occurred (such as a bone).  It can be throbbing, aching, or sharp. Visceral pain is hard to pinpoint and is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sweatiness. Neuropathic pain is caused by an injury to or compression of nerves in the central (brain, spinal cord) nervous system.  Neuropathic pain is often described as throbbing, burning or stinging; it can radiate from the damaged nerve and may be associated with numbness, tingling and weakness.

Can I find relief from my cancer pain?

Cancer pain may not always be fully relieved but can be managed effectively.  Scientific advances into the study of pain receptors and transmitted signals to the brain have resulted in effective pain management for cancer patients.  Those affected understand the toll it can take on both physical health and mental wellness and can lead to anxiety or depression.
It is possible to effectively manage pain caused by the cancer’s damage to body tissue. By working with a cancer care team to identify the pain while committing to a consistent program, relief from cancer pain can be achieved. Regular physical exercise and activity can help improve overall function and decrease pain associated with cancer treatment. Even severe pain can be effectively managed by combining targeted activity and exercises on a regular basis before the discomfort becomes unbearable. In short, those undergoing cancer treatment, as well as cancer survivors, have the ability to improve their everyday function.

Before and after cancer treatment, a comprehensive cancer rehabilitation program can help. A certified therapist can evaluate you for existing issues like arthritis or muscle stiffness and help prepare you for the side effects you may experience while undergoing treatment. Following treatment, they can assist in the reduction of pain and management of the general healing process through tailored exercises designed to address your specific side effects. Although cancer-related pain may not always be relieved entirely, cancer rehabilitation can effectively manage pain to a comfortable level, helping improve your quality of life throughout all stages of cancer.

Starting a conversation with your care team

If your pain is interfering with your day-to-day activities, quickly notify your healthcare team. You can discuss your pain, including where it is, when it began, how long it lasts, how it feels, how you find relief and how it affects your life. Allowing your pain to spiral out of control leads to unnecessary suffering, a reduced ability to cope with your condition and lengthy hospital stays.

You should never accept pain as a normal part of having cancer – it’s important to remember that all pain can be managed to some extent. Although cancer-related pain may not always be totally alleviated, you can work with your healthcare team to manage and reduce it. Reporting pain, and describing it, can help your care team know how to treat it.

Monitoring your progress with cancer pain

It is critical to track your success once you've committed to a structured approach to managing your cancer-related pain. Again, knowing how to describe your pain will help your healthcare team create a plan to treat it. Often, a number scale is used to keep track of the intensity of pain. A number scale rates your pain from 1 to 10 – the higher the number, the worse the pain. Using a pain scale will help your cancer rehabilitation therapist find the best pain control methods for you.

A written record of your pain can help you and your care team understand more about your pain and how it can be managed. Make note of how the pain feels at different times of the day, as well as what you've done to relieve it and how well it works. It’s also a good idea to make note of any pain-inducing triggers that bring on discomfort whether it be a specific action or your environment.

Thorough assessment is a crucial aspect in the overall management of your pain. The more dedicated you are to monitoring and reporting the severity of your pain, the more likely you are to receive optimal treatment and sustained progress towards your pain management goals.

The therapists at ReVital Cancer Rehabilitation have been specially trained to identify and prescribe effective treatment plans to help meet your goals for cancer-related pain management. To find out more about how ReVital Cancer Rehabilitation therapists can help improve your overall quality of life, reach out here: