Pain in cancer patients is very common. Although not every cancer patient should experience pain, most late-stage cancer patients do. The pain can be generalized/localized or it can be the feeling of not being comfortable altogether.
Together with anxiety, depression, and lack of sleep, cancer patients may find it hard to manage pain.
Causes of cancer pain
Pain in cancer patients can be:
a) Due to cancer itself
b) Due to the tumor pressing on the nearby nerves, vessels, etc.
c) Due to the damage done by the tumor to the nearby tissues
Cancer pain can be a dull or sharp ache that may happen continuously or intermittently. It can range from mild and moderate to severe depending on the type and stage of cancer, location of the tumor, symptoms, and the pain tolerance of the patient.
If your cancer is in its early stages, the chances are that you can be fully cured of cancer with minimal treatment. However, if your cancer is diagnosed in later stages (when it has spread beyond the primary site to other organs), in that case, cancer can be managed, but a complete cure is unlikely. Medical oncology offers a host of advanced therapies that deliver management of late-stage cancer while maintaining a good quality of life for the patient.
Your first chance at beating cancer is your best chance, so choose the right hospital and team for your cancer treatment. As selecting the right hospital for your cancer treatment is not a simple task, websites such as Dcode Care provide the lists of the best cancer hospitals and doctors in India.
Importance of pain management
Pain causes distress and anxiety in cancer patients. It also increases the blood pressure which in turn delays the healing of the wounds caused by cancer or cancer surgery. Hence pain management is important to provide a better quality of life as well as to get a better outcome from the cancer treatment. When the pain is well managed, the patient tends to sleep better and hence is active during the day. Adequate rest and better sleep also avoid many complications during the treatment.
Pain management in cancer patients
Pain in cancer patients can be managed in different ways depending on the reason for the pain. Pain due to cancer itself is managed by cancer treatment that may include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Others are managed by pain-relieving medications or other ways.
Some of the pain management procedures can be done by oneself at home while others require the monitoring of a trained specialist. Some of the easy tips for pain management in cancer patients at home include:
- Hot and cold compresses: Cancer patients can use a hot compress or cold packs to relieve the pain. Care should be taken not to use them directly on the skin. Avoid using these in the area of injured skin, numb skin, or the region where the patient received radiation therapy.
- Engaging in other activities: Distraction is one of the ways of pain management in cancer patients. Engaging in activities that make oneself happy or learning a new hobby, language, etc can distract the patient from the pain and help manage it well.
- Meditation and Breathing Exercises: Breathing exercises can help the patients reduce their pain. In addition to coping with pain, meditation and breathing exercises also help you to relieve your stress and tensions. There are many books, phone apps, and podcasts that help the patient do these exercises.
Other ways to manage pain with the help of trained professionals include:
- Pain-relieving medications: The patients should talk to their oncologist and team about the pain they are experiencing. The following questions can be used as a guide to describing the pain that the patient is facing:
1) On a scale of 0 to 10, 1 being no pain, how severe is the pain?
2) Where is the location of the pain?
3) What activity reduces the pain?
4) What activity increases the pain?
5) Is the pain continuous or intermittent?
The pain medications can be given to the patient in different ways. The most common way is oral tablets with are convenient and inexpensive. Others are treated with intravenous injections or skin patches. Patient-controlled analgesia pumps are used to determine the dose of the medicine at the start of therapy. Based on this observation the doctor prescribes a regular dose of analgesics to manage the pain.
In late-stage cancer patients where the pain is intolerable, intraspinal injections are used to manage the cancer pain.
- Radiation therapy: In the patient with stage 4 cancers, where cancer has spread to bones, radiation therapy can be used in the management of pain. It helps in resolving pain-related difficulties in walking and carrying out other activities. Hence radiation therapy is an important procedure in palliative therapy that is used to reduce the pain in late-stage cancer patients.
- Acupuncture: Very thin needles are put into the body at certain points which are thought to control the feeling of pain in a different body part. They are placed at different depths and angles. This method should be practiced only with a licensed and certified acupuncturist.
- Hypnosis: It is a trance-like state of high concentration where the patient is calm and relaxed which makes them more open to suggestions. A trained hypnotherapist can help the patients to be in a hypnotic state, and make positive suggestions to them for a better quality of life and treatment outcome.
- TENS Procedure: Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation consists of sending small electrical impulses through the body to reduce the pain impulses going to the spinal cord and brain. This relieves the pain in cancer patients and helps them to be in a relaxed state. Patients can discuss this procedure with their oncologist and team in cases of intolerable pain.
- Psychological therapy: These can be helpful in patients diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety disorder
If you are diagnosed with cancer, do not panic. Modern medicine has developed advanced treatments and therapies that deliver good outcomes.