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What You Should Know About Managing Pain During Cancer Treatment

December 09, 2019

Maintaining quality of life and a sense of normalcy are important for cancer patients throughout their cancer journey, but difficult to do when pain – a common side effect of cancer treatment – enters the picture. Both cancer treatment and the disease itself can take tremendous physical and emotional tolls on patients.

If you have experienced pain related to cancer treatment, you’re not alone. About 80 percent of patients with advanced-stage cancer report experiencing moderate to severe pain, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Just as every form of cancer has unique characteristics, every patient experiences pain differently.”

Just as every form of cancer has unique characteristics, every patient experiences pain differently. The pain may fluctuate from day to day. It can also vary by age. The NCI reports that younger patients are more likely to experience cancer pain and flare ups than older patients. As patients, caregivers, and physicians work together to develop a pain management plan, understanding how to identify pain levels and open communication can help.

Understand your pain

The American Cancer Society breaks down pain into three different types – acute, chronic, and breakthrough pain. Acute pain is usually severe, may come on quickly, and lasts a fairly short time. The next type of pain, chronic pain, is categorized by the length of time it lasts. Pain is usually considered chronic if it lasts longer than three months. Chronic pain may be controlled by taking regular pain medications.

Finally, patients may experience breakthrough pain even though they are taking regular medication for chronic pain. This pain is unpredictable, lasts for as long as an hour, and varies in intensity. The American Cancer Society points out that that breakthrough pain is not controlled by regular doses of pain medicines, but rather treated with an additional dose of pain medicine or a different type of medication.

Speak up when you’re in pain

Communicating types of pain and the severity of pain is an important part of pain management. The type of pain a cancer patient is experiencing helps physicians determine how best to address it based on the patient’s specific needs. Even severe pain can be controlled well by a combination of medicine and techniques like massage, acupuncture, and light movement or exercise.

The World Health Organization breaks down pain into three categories on a scale of one to 10:

  • Mild to moderate pain is identified on a scale of one to three, and can be managed with over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen.
  • Moderate to severe pain is on a scale of four to six, can be managed through prescribed pain medications such as dihydrocodeine, propoxyphene, and tramadol.
  • Severe pain is identified on a scale of seven to 10, and patients may receive a stronger pain medication.

Think beyond the physical

Pain associated with cancer treatment affects more than your physical wellbeing. It can also impact you emotionally – related anxiety and depression may make pain seem worse. Whether you seek counseling, lean on loved ones, nurses, social workers, or a physician, talking to someone you trust can help alleviate the emotional side of pain management. Poorly controlled pain can significantly and negatively impact quality of life for cancer patients.

The pain that can accompany cancer and treatment may feel physically and emotionally overwhelming, but you don’t have to suffer through it. At Texas Oncology, effective pain management is part of our commitment to ensuring our patients have the support and confidence they need to fight cancer.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.