Because of the many consequences of a cancer diagnosis, people often forgot to address the fact that the disease, in and of itself, often causes intense pain that can affect all areas of your life. Finding ways to relieve this pain is essential to maintaining a high quality of life during cancer treatment and allowing your self to function as normally as possible. If you or someone you know has been struggling with cancer pain, don’t be afraid to get help. Pain management is an essential part of any successful treatment plan. Below is some more information to help you appropriately manage your pain.
Cancer pain is often present at the site of the tumor, and so it may affect bones, nerves, or other areas. There are many different types of pain, ranging from sharp stabs to dull aches. Sometimes cancer treatments can cause pain as well. Post-operative pain is common, as is burning and tingling sensations resulting from cancer drugs. Radiation treatment can also cause skin burns, mouth sores, and painful swallowing.
The best way to relieve pain is to find the most effective treatment with the fewest side effects. The World Health Organization has a strategy for cancer pain management based on a “ladder escalation” model of pain control that begins with non-narcotic drugs and progresses gradually to narcotic drugs known as opiods. Talk to your doctor about what step on the ladder is right for you. Additionally, pain management has become a specialty in and of itself. This means that many hospitals have pain management centers where you can discuss your options for treatment. These may include pain medications, surgery, radiation, nerve blocks, and non-medical treatments.
The first type of cancer pain management is drugs. Non-narcotic pain medications are over the counter drugs which are used to relieve mild cancer pain. Quick-acting opiods, the next step on the ladder, are narcotic drugs which are often the first step in moderating severe cancer pain. After some time, the doctor may switch your prescription to long-acting opiods. Other medications, such as antidepressants and anti-convulsion drugs, may also be used to treat tingling or burning sensations. There are also alternative treatments for bone pain, such as steroid medications and biphosphonates.
If drugs are not effective, doctors may move to more radical and invasive treatments, like surgery. Surgery and radiation can sometimes relieve bone and nerve pain. Other procedures, including nerve blocks and spinal injections, are often employed in order to block pain. Finally, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), or small electric currents, may be sent through the body to assist in pain blockage.
Additionally, there are many non-medical treatments that have been shown to be effective at relieving cancer pain. These techniques include relaxation, biofeedback, guided imagery, massage, and hypnosis. Acupuncture, an ancient Chinese therapy, is also a widely accepted pain treatment method. These treatments can be used alone or with medications.
Cancer causes not only physical pain, but emotional pain as well. Many cancer patients find it useful to meet with a mental health professional for counseling while undergoing treatments. Sometimes, these sessions may lead to prescriptions for more medications, but often simply having a support system makes all the difference.
Although the currently available cancer pain treatments are not perfect, the medical field has made significant strides at developing methods for pain management in recent years. If you feel your pain is not being managed effectively, ask to see a pain specialist or be referred to a pain clinic. Don’t accept your pain as a part of having cancer.