Put Cancer Pain Management in Your Care Plan
You would think being diagnosed with cancer would be bad enough. But many kinds of cancer treatments also cause pain ancillary to the cancer itself. The amount of pain you have with cancer depends on the kind of cancer you have, where it’s located, the stage of your cancer and whether the cancer or the treatment has damaged nerves.
Kinds of Cancer Pain
There are five kinds of cancer pain. Nerve pain, soft tissue pain, bone pain, phantom pain, and referred pain. The most difficult to figure out is phantom pain, because we don’t actually know what it comes from. But to the patient it is real, and unfortunately it’s very common. Up to a third of breast cancer patients have pain at the site of their mastectomies after their breasts are removed.
We can’t just tell a cancer patient that we amputated her leg or her breast and now she should forget about the pain because the original source of it is gone. This pain, like other forms of cancer pain, can be so severe that it makes it impossible for the patient to continue her therapy for the cancer itself.
Pain Interferes with Treatment
That’s why it’s important to put a pain management therapist on your cancer team. In a pain management practice we are trained to treat cancer pain. Why do we want to treat it fairly aggressively? Because if you have too much pain you cannot continue with your chemotherapy or radiation which will help you deal with the cancer. Pain may seem like an underlying issue, but if it stops you from getting the treatment you need it can be a big one.
Some causes of cancer pain, including bone pain,are from the tumor itself pressing on bones, nerves, and other organs in the body. For example, prostate cancer and kidney cancer often produce pain in the back.
Cancer pain caused by the tumor itself is not only a good diagnostic tool, but although it can be acute it only lasts a short time. For example, you can have your tumor removed, and once the surgery is over, the pain goes away. For us pain management guys, this is simple to treat. The surgery heals, the pain goes away, and until it does we keep you comfortable.
Chronic pain is another story entirely. It’s sometimes due to nerve changes from the cancer treatment itself. Chronic pain, which is also called persistent pain, is where we often consider other methods beyond short term pain killing medications. Sometimes we use ablation, a procedure where we cut off the signal to a nerve.
The most common chronic cancer pain is neuropathy, which is caused by pressure on nerves or the spinal cord or by nerve damage from radiation or chemo. It’s like a burning shooting tingling under the skin, and it’s the kind of pain that really requires a pain management specialist.
In our practice we treat many people who have both acute and chronic pain from their cancer and their treatment, and we try to make them as comfortable as possible without over treating them. That’s a fine line that requires quite a bit of training. Even though they may have cancer, we need to help our patients maintain the best quality of life we can.