Managing Chronic Cancer Pain

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For many of the million or so patients newly diagnosed with cancer each year, persistent pain is one of the more noticeable signs of the disease at some point. Frequently occurring during advanced stages of cancer, chronic pain may be the result of nerve damage from chemotherapy or radiation treatments, the presence of a tumor, or surgery. If you’re living with chronic cancer pain, a pain specialist may be able to minimize your daily discomfort.
Symptoms Associated with Chronic Cancer Pain

Nerve-related cancer pain (peripheral neuropathy) can be experienced as tingling and burning sensations or numbness and weakness that starts in the feet or hands. Unlike acute cancer pain, chronic cancer pain is often characterized by flares, or “breakthrough pain” that’s so-named because it’s pain that still occurs even when a patient is on medication that otherwise controls their pain. Some patients experience periods where pain is minimal and other times when the discomfort is persistent and severe, sometimes to the point where it’s difficult to sleep or focus on daily life.

Chronic Cancer Pain Treatments

The good news is that about nine out of ten cancer patients do report relief of cancer pain from a combination of medications. Mild chronic pain is often treated with anti-inflammatory drugs. Antidepressants may minimize tingling and burning sensations. Some patients respond better with injections into the affected area. Non-drug treatment options include breathing and relaxation exercises, biofeedback, exposure to heat or cold for specific periods of time, massage therapy, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).
Managing Chronic Cancer Pain

Cancer pain is unique in that it doesn’t always correspond with the progressive stages of cancer. Cancer pain is also different from pain relegated to a specific area of the body such as the lower back, neck, shoulder, or elbow in that it can change fairly quickly. The nature of ongoing cancer pain can present certain challenges when trying to come up with an effective management strategy. Some patients find relief with water-based therapies while others benefit more from customized physical therapy sessions.
Cancer pain is moderate to severe for about half of all cancer patients, according to the National Cancer Institute. Since any type of pain is highly subjective, be as descriptive as possible about your pain during each appointment with a pain specialist or visit to our Los Gatos pain clinic. Consider keeping a journal to track pain episodes to help identify patterns.