Cancer and its treatments can be painful. Luckily, cancer pain can be controlled in almost every case. This does not mean that you have no pain- but that medications can keep it at a level that you can bear. You are the only person who can say how much pain you have or if a certain pain medicine is working for you. Telling your doctor exactly how you feel is one of the most important parts of controlling pain.
The more specific you can be about your pain, the more your doctor will be able to treat it. It often helps to write everything down. Include:
- When your pain started, what it feels like, and how long it has lasted.
- Any changes in your pain.
- If the pain is constant or if it comes and goes.
- If you have more than one kind of pain. Use words such as dull, aching, sharp, shooting, or burning.
- What makes your pain better or worse.
- A rating of your pain on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the worst pain you can imagine.
Tell your doctor exactly where you feel pain. You can use a drawing. Say if the pain is just in one place, if it is in several places at once, or if it moves from one place to another.
A tumor that presses on bones, nerves, or organs can cause pain. Surgery for cancer can cause pain. So can chemotherapy and radiation. Some medical tests, such as bone marrow aspiration, can also cause pain. There are a number of ways to control each of these kinds of pain. Pain control often starts with medicine. Many drugs are used to treat pain. You and your doctor may need to adjust your medicine as your pain changes. Your doctor may suggest different drugs, combinations of drugs, or higher doses.
For a tumor that causes pain, removing or destroying all or part of the tumor, if possible, often helps. Doctors use chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and other treatments to do this.
For nerve pain, doctors may use nerve blocks. With a nerve block, medicine is injected right into the nerve that affects the painful area. They provide short-term pain relief by preventing the nerve from sending pain signals. Or sometimes medicine is delivered directly to the spine, as with spinal anesthesia or an epidural.
There are many other ways to control cancer pain, including:
- Heat or cold
- Splints or braces
- Massage, exercise, and physical therapy
Many people who take pain medicine worry about getting addicted. Some pain medicines can cause your body to keep expecting the medicine. This is called a drug dependency. Dependency is not the same as addiction. Addiction is a behavioral disorder in which a person has a craving for the drug. This craving may not even be related to the level of pain. Addiction to pain medicine is rare if you have not had a problem with addiction in the past and you take your medicine as directed under your doctor’s care.
Do not let your fear about becoming addicted get in the way of pain relief. Ask for pain relief if you need it. Pain is easier to control when you treat it as soon as it starts. You may also be able to predict pain and treat it before it begins, such as before physical activity. Pain is harder to control if you wait until it is bad.
Learning as much as you can about your pain may help. Talking to a counselor can help you manage your cancer pain or the discomfort from cancer treatments. Emotional support from your friends and family may also help.