Thanks to incredible advances in modern medicine, a cancer diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. Unfortunately, though, cancer can still be quite painful, as can its treatment. If you have recently been diagnosed with cancer, you should know that there are plenty of ways to effectively manage the pain associated with this devastating disease and its treatment.
Causes of Cancer Pain
Those who have newly been diagnosed may be wondering, what does cancer feel like? The answer is more complex than many patients would imagine, as the pain associated with many cancers can vary greatly from patient to patient. Some patients experience no pain at all, while others experience mild to severe pain that can be acute or chronic.
As malignant tumors grow, they harm nearby tissues and release chemicals that irritate the surrounding area. Tumors can also place stress on the bones, nerves, and organs surrounding them. Patients may experience the resulting sensations as dull, aching, sharp, or burning pain, depending on what nerve pathways in their bodies are stimulated by their tumors and how fast their signals are transmitted to the brain.
Cancer pain can occur in the area directly surrounding the tumor, or it can feel like it is coming from a different area of the body entirely. It can occur as soon as the tumor appears, or it can begin long after treatment has ended. All of this ambiguity makes it difficult to know when to seek the help of pain management doctors, but as a general rule, patients should seek help if they have experienced pain that lasts two weeks or longer regardless of whether or not they have already received a cancer diagnosis.
Diagnosing Cancer Pain
When reporting pain to your doctor, it is essential that you give an accurate description of it, as the way that you experience pain can speak volumes about its cause. Be sure to take note of where the pain is located, how long you have had it, how long it lasts and how severe it is when it occurs, how often occurs, and whether there are any factors that seem to make it better or worse in addition to offering a detailed description of what it feels like. Take note of any other symptoms that you have as well, as these can also be helpful to the doctors responsible for diagnosing your pain.
In diagnosing your pain, your doctor will categorize it according to its type. Cancer pain can be acute or chronic, can result from the tumors themselves or the therapies used to treat them, and may or may not be related to a pre-existing chronic pain condition. Determining the cause of the pain will help your doctors come up with an effective cancer pain treatment plan.
Cancer Pain Treatment
Acute pain that is caused by tumors themselves usually dissipates as the tumors are removed or reduced via radiation or surgery. The acute pain resulting from cancer therapies such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery is predictable and should end soon after the treatment ends. That doesn’t mean patients should have to suffer in the meantime, though, which is why many of them are recommended to a local pain management center for help.
If you have been experiencing pain due to tumor growth or its treatment that has lasted for three months or longer, your doctor will likely offer a diagnosis of chronic pain. As the development of tumors or the treatment of them progresses, the pain may worsen, but there are still plenty of ways to help alleviate it. These include analgesic drugs, anesthetic blocks, and behavioral management to help patients develop appropriate coping mechanisms to deal with the psychological aspects of their pain.
Those with pre-existing chronic pain often find that their symptoms begin to escalate when they are diagnosed with cancer. If you’re battling both chronic pain and cancer, you should never be denied adequate treatment based on your pre-existing condition. We can help you develop a treatment plan that accounts for both the chronic pain you were already experiencing and the ways in which your cancer or its treatment have exacerbated it.
The majority of those suffering from cancer pain are prescribed some form of pharmaceutical medication. As you may expect, these often include narcotic painkillers, but other medications such as anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and corticosteroids may also be prescribed to those who are suffering from burning tingling pain, which is often symptomatic of nerve damage.
Medications are not the only means of treating cancer pain, though, which is why it’s important that those who are suffering seek relief at a comprehensive, multidisciplinary cancer pain center. These doctors can also suggest non-pharmaceutical methods such as targeted relaxation techniques, acupuncture, emotional support and counseling, massage therapy, skin stimulation, transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation, or other techniques. Most patients find that these are most effective when used in conjunction with pharmaceutical interventions.
Developing a Pain Control Plan
Regardless of what type of pain you’re experiencing and whether your pain is caused by tumor growth or the treatments used to reduce this growth, the first step toward managing it effectively is to come up with a pain control plan. In addition to a detailed description of your pain, doctors will also need information about any medications you are taking, any pain medicines you’ve taken in the past and whether or not they have worked, and any known allergies you may have to medications, foods, dyes, or additives. This information will help your doctors understand what medications will most effectively treat your pain.
Whether you are suffering from severe bone cancer pain, mild or acute pain due to chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery, nerve damage due to tumor growth, or an exacerbation of your pre-existing chronic pain condition, we can help you develop a plan to manage the pain so that you can focus on healing. We will work in conjunction with your other doctors to ensure that you are receiving appropriate medical and non-medical therapies and have access to all of the treatment modalities you need to develop a pain management plan that works for you. Get in touch today to schedule an initial consultation to get started.