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Pain Management in Cancer Treatment

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 18 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Pain Cancer Management Tumour Control

One of the biggest fears and concerns for any cancer sufferer is how they are going to be able to cope with the pain they may have to endure.

The truth is that the type and intensity of pain will be very different and unique to your own particular circumstances. It could be mild or intense pain, short-lived or longer lasting and can affect only one specified area of your body or, perhaps, several. This is why pain management is highly individualised and something which your consultant will discuss with you at great length.

What Causes Pain When You Have Cancer?

There can be several reasons why you may experience pain when undergoing cancer treatment. Firstly, and perhaps the most obvious is the pain you might expect to feel where a tumour begins to press against organs, bones or nerves.

There is no direct correlation, however, between a tumour’s size and the pain and discomfort you might feel. For example, you might have a large tumour situated in a part of your body which causes you no pain whatsoever, yet another small tumour could be extremely painful if it’s pressing against a nerve or your spinal cord.

It’s also important to bear in mind that pain doesn’t necessarily mean that the tumour is getting larger nor, post cure, does it necessarily indicate a recurrence.

Pain can also result following certain types of treatment such as surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, especially if any of these therapies have suppressed your immune system.

How Is Pain Treated?

Different types and strengths of medications are used, sometimes in combination and sometimes in conjunction with other therapies or pain relief techniques to combat the effects of any pain caused by cancer itself or the treatment of it.

Mild to moderate pain can be helped by taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin whilst ‘opiods’ such as morphine, codeine and methadone, for example, help to alleviate more moderate and severe pain.

Most medications are taken orally but some can also be administered via injection, intravenously, through skin patches and rectal suppositories. You might also receive pain relief through an epidural or intramuscular injection.

Side Effects

Most side effects relate to the stronger (opiod) medications and will differ from person to person and from drug to drug. Common side effects, however, can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue and drowsiness
  • Slowed breathing
However, possible side effects of any medications you are recommended to take will be discussed in great detail with your consultant. In many cases, if you react badly to one form of medication, there will be other alternatives including combinations of medications and other therapies you can try to find the best solution.

Pain Management

Everybody reacts differently to pain and some cancer sufferers will inevitably deal with it better than others. Then there are certain personality types who do not like to admit to feeling pain and will often endure it to a certain level in silence.

The important thing about cancer and pain is that this is no time to be heroic. Pain control is a not only a crucial part of your care but an honest approach is imperative in order to help consultants determine your treatment programme. Therefore, if your pain becomes worse or the medication isn’t working, it’s important to let the medical team know.

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