For many individuals with cancer or undergoing cancer treatments, managing pain is part of the treatment plan. These cancer related pains can be caused by cancer itself, by side effects of Chemo and Radiation Therapy, and sometimes chronic pain features.
Known in the medical community as analgesics, pain medications and other treatments can combine to offer meaningful and life-enhancing pain relief felt by many cancer patients. However, these are not decisions that can be taken lightly due to the plethora of drug interactions that may take place under improper care. This is why you need the careful guidance of a doctor to ensure you are getting the best, and safest, care.
While moderate to severe pain is often reported by people with cancer at some point in their treatment, there are many ways of managing this pain and regaining your quality of life. Between pain medicines, physical therapies, and alternative treatment additions such as massage and acupuncture, your pain management system can be as unique as the rest of your treatment.
Below is a compilation of several different care methods for pain in those with cancer. Keep reading below for a look at some of your options and be sure to speak with your treatment team about the methods which may work for you.
Causes of Cancer Pain
Cancer patients usually suffer from pain for one of the following two reasons: the pain is related to the tumor itself, or, the pain is a side effect of treatments as they interact with the body.
As a tumor grows and spreads, it can press up against internal tissues and nerves in an unnatural way. As the pain can strike at any time in a cancer patient’s journey, sometimes even before they receive a formal diagnosis. The result is mild to moderate pain, with size and placement of the tumor leaving potential for worse pain the longer cancer goes unmanaged.
In the case of pain as a side effect from cancer treatment, this is due to the fact that many cancer tests are invasive and many of our leading treatments create an immense strain on the body. Nausea, vomiting, lethargy, and poor immune response are all hallmarks of treatments such as Chemotherapy. Over the long run, the wear and tear on the body adds up, leading to physical brittleness and chronic pain.
Pharmaceutical Pain Management
Before beginning, it must be noted that not all pharmaceutical medications are right for all cancer patients. This is largely due to medication interactions between painkillers and the cancer treatments themselves. As always, consult your doctor and care team when considering adding a pharmaceutical to your pain management routine.
Over the Counter
The first and most readily available category of medication pain management are over the counter options. These types of medications are used most commonly for patients needing only mild to moderate pain relief and are not presenting with complicated symptomonolgy. Among these options you will find:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Ibuprofen (Advil)
- Other NSAIDs
Especially in the case of NSAIDs, there is potential risk for drug interactions. Please be caution and ask your care team if these medications are viable options for your pain management.
Secondarily, prescription medications can be given to patients who either are not able to take over the counter options due to drug interaction or when added pain relieving options are needed. These include:
These medications bond to opiate receptors in the brain and spine which mimics the natural pain-fighting hormones naturally found in the human body. Prescriptions in this category include fentanyl, morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and tramadol. Understand that many of these medications can be strong and addictive. As such. they must be taken with care with proper monitoring.
Used to mitigate pain caused by internal inflammation, these medications can be powerful pain management tools when an individual is suffering from the residual effects cancer treatment has on the body.
While normally used for patients who suffer seizures, this class of medication relieves pain through its overall effect on how nerves react to stimuli. When using anticonvulsants, nerves in the body no longer respond with the same intensity, thus calming the nerve and reducing overall pain.
- Local Anesthetics
Another, more direct nerve blocking agent, is the injection of a local anesthetic to blunt the pain experienced in a specific region of the body. Depending on the medication used, patients can expect these blocking agents to last anywhere between 12-36 hours.
Alternative and Complementary Pain Management
In addition to prescription management, pain can also be alleviated through the use of alternative and complementary care. These are generally non-pharmaceutical and non-invasive procedures that aim to help relax the body as a method of easing pain.
Two of the most popular methods of alternative pain management are Massage Therapy and Acupuncture. Both treatments can be used safely in conjunction with medications making them effective alternatives for additional symptom management.
Massage therapy is a treatment in which a trained massage therapist manipulates soft muscle tissue to reduce pain. These massages also have many additional benefits such as decreasing stress, reducing fatigue, and sometimes helping manage nausea.
Acupuncture is an ancient treatment in which small needles, pressure, and heat are used to manipulate various acupuncture points on the body. Different pressure points correspond to different types of symptom relief such as pain, nausea, vomiting, stress, and insomnia. For many, these treatments can be both relaxing in the moment, but also provide lasting symptom management after leaving the office.
Tracking The Effectiveness of Pain Management
The final part of effective pain management is knowing what methods are, and are not, working for you. As such, it is recommended that cancer patients keep a record of their pain.
This record should include severity, location, and type (stabbing, dull, etc.), in addition to notes on any medications or therapies that the pain is related to. For instance, when adding or subtracting a medication from your treatment plan, be sure to pay extra attention to your body to see how you react. Ask yourself whether you feel better, worse, the same, and if there was any change in symptoms after shifting your management techniques.
Especially important is making note of any breakthrough pain you are experiencing, whether there is a change in treatment or not, as it may be a signal that your current pain medications need to be adjusted or that a particular therapy is not working as intended.
Calling a Pain Management Specialist
When it comes to cancer, treating pain is never just about pain as a symptom. In fact, many times through treating the pain and improving your quality of life, it can help reduce the effects of anxiety and depression. This ultimately gives you a greater ability to spend time with family members, socialize, rest, and stay in the best mindset possible to allow your body to continue the process of healing.
The Arizona Pain and Spine Institute boasts a full team of seasoned professionals who specialize in minimally invasive and clinically proven modalities to help manage and assess both long and short-term pain. Whether you need to be assessed for more serious medical attention or are looking for a location that can offer pain management and physical therapy, the Arizona Pain and Spine institute can help.