Cancer Pain

What is cancer pain?
Cancer pain

Cancer and the side effects of cancer treatment can cause pain. Cancer pain is characterized by discomfort, distress, or agony. It can suppress the immune system, increase the healing time, interfere with sleep, and affect the mood.

Controlling your pain is an important part of the cancer treatment plan.

How bad is my cancer pain?

Your clinic team will use this scale (see figure on right) to measure how bad your pain is.

Visual analogue scale for pain assessment
Scale used to measure pain

Mild: Pain score of 3 or less on the VAS scale. This pain should not stop you from doing activities of daily life (like grocery shopping, laundry, cooking).

Moderate: Pain score of 4 to 6. This pain stops you from doing instrumental activities of daily life (preparing meals, managing money, shopping, doing housework, and using a telephone).

Severe: Pain score of 7 or higher. This pain is bad enough to stop you from even the most basic (self-care) activities of daily life like eating, dressing, getting into or out of a bed or chair, taking a bath or shower, and using the toilet.

How to manage mild cancer pain?
Pain scale
  • Keep track of your pain levels using Ankr (myAnkr web portal or the Ankr app). It will help you describe the pain to your doctor or nurse.
  • Take the right amount of prescribed painkillers at the right time. Do not wait until your pain gets too bad. Waiting to take your medicine could make it take longer for the pain to go away. It may also increase the amount of medicine needed to lower pain.
  • Do not stop taking the medicine without consulting your doctor.
  • Meet with a specialist who treat pain and often work together as part of a pain or palliative care team. These specialists may include a neurologist, surgeon, psychiatrist, psychiatrist, psychologist, or pharmacist. Talk with your health care team to find a specialist.
  • Ask about integrative medicine or treatments such as acupuncture, biofeedback, hypnosis, massage therapy and physical therapy.
How to manage moderate and severe cancer pain?

Palliative care consultation is encouraged for patients with moderate or severe cancer pain. This team focuses on symptom control, including prescribing treatments to relieve pain, nausea, shortness of breath and stress caused by serious illnesses such as cancer.

Seek immediate medical help if the pain

  • Isn’t getting better with medicine
  • Comes on quickly
  • Makes it hard to eat, sleep, or perform your normal activities

Talk to your health care team if you experience the side effects such as sleepiness, nausea, or constipation from the pain medicine.

What are the causes?
  • Cancer growth into nearby tissue. As a tumor grows, it can press on nerves, bones, or organs. The tumor can also release pain causing chemicals.
  • It is normal to experience pain from cancer surgery. Most pain goes away after a while. But some people may have pain that lasts for months or years.
  • Pain may develop after radiation therapy and go away on its own. It can also develop months or years after the radiation therapy to some parts of the body, such as the chest, breast, or spinal cord.
  • Some chemotherapy can cause pain and numbness in the fingers and toes, called peripheral neuropathy. Usually, this pain goes away when treatment is finished. But sometimes the damage is permanent.
  • Cancer patients can still have pain from other causes. These include migraines, arthritis, or chronic low back pain.

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