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Cancer Pain: Causes, Types And How To Treat It

People who are suffering from cancer will experience pain either as a result of cancer itself or from the treatment of cancer. Also, cancer pain can linger even after the cancer has been cured.

What Causes Cancer Pain [1]

When the cancerous tumour is growing and pressing on the nerves or body organs and destroying the nearby tissues, it leads to pain. The tumour can also produce chemicals that can cause pain and feelings of discomfort.

Even cancer treatments including radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy can cause pain.

Cancer pain can be acute or chronic.

  • Acute pain - It is caused as a result of damage caused by an injury and it lasts only for a short time.
  • Chronic pain - It is caused when the tumour presses against the nerves or due to the release of the chemicals by the tumour. Chronic pain stays for a longer period after the injury or treatment is over and can range from mild to severe.

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Types Of Cancer Pain

1. Bone pain

Bone pain is caused when cancer spreads into the bones and causes pain by destroying the bone tissue. The pain is often characterized as a throbbing pain [2] .

2. Soft tissue pain

Soft tissue pain occurs in the tissues that connect, support and surround other body structures that includes fat, muscle, nerves, tendons, and blood vessels. Soft tissue pain is characterized as sharp or throbbing pain and cramps [3] .

3. Nerve pain

Nerve pain also called neuropathic pain, is caused by pressure on the nerves or the spinal cord or by damage caused to the nerves. Nerve pain can be felt as a burning, shooting, tingling sensation under the skin. It usually happens after other cancer treatments like chemotherapy or radiotherapy [4] .

4. Phantom pain

This pain is described as pain in a part of the body that has been removed [5] . About 1 in 3 women who have had surgery to remove a breast and over 50% of people who had surgery to remove an arm or leg experienced phantom pain.

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Symptoms Of Cancer Pain

The symptoms of cancer pain vary from person to person and it can range from mild to severe. Cancer pain can be sharp, dull, achy or burning. The extremity of pain may depend on the type of cancer, the stage and extent of the disease and a person's tolerance for pain.

How To Treat Or Control Cancer Pain [6]

  • For mild to moderate cancer pain, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and pain-relieving medications can be used.
  • For moderate to severe cancer pain, narcotic pain relievers like codeine, morphine, and tramadol are used.
  • For tingling and burning pain, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and corticosteroids are used.
  • There are other specialized treatments such as nerve block wherein a local anaesthetic is injected into a nerve which blocks the pain along the nerve pathways from reaching the brain.
  • Other therapies to treat cancer pain are acupressure, acupuncture, massage, relaxation, physical therapy, meditation and hypnosis.

According to the American Cancer Society, severe cancer pain can be controlled by a combination of oral medicines and they work best if taken regularly.

View Article References
  1. [1] Chwistek M. (2017). Recent advances in understanding and managing cancer pain.F1000Research,6, 945.
  2. [2] Jimenez-Andrade, J. M., Mantyh, W. G., Bloom, A. P., Ferng, A. S., Geffre, C. P., & Mantyh, P. W. (2010). Bone cancer pain.Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences,1198, 173–181.
  3. [3] George, A., & Grimer, R. (2012). Early symptoms of bone and soft tissue sarcomas: could they be diagnosed earlier?.Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England,94(4), 261–266.
  4. [4] Edwards, H. L., Mulvey, M. R., & Bennett, M. I. (2019). Cancer-Related Neuropathic Pain.Cancers,11(3), 373.
  5. [5] Burgoyne, L. L., Billups, C. A., Jirón, J. L., Jr, Kaddoum, R. N., Wright, B. B., Bikhazi, G. B., … Pereiras, L. A. (2012). Phantom limb pain in young cancer-related amputees: recent experience at St Jude children's research hospital.The Clinical journal of pain,28(3), 222–225.
  6. [6] Nersesyan, H., & Slavin, K. V. (2007). Current aproach to cancer pain management: Availability and implications of different treatment options.Therapeutics and clinical risk management,3(3), 381–400.

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