What is cancer pain?
- It is important to note that having cancer does not always mean that you will experience pain, especially in the early stages of the cancer’s development.
- However, most individuals who have cancer will experience pain, although there are many methods in which this pain can be managed and treated.
- As a cancer patient receives treatment, their quality of life is expected to change as they may not be able to get back to living a normal life in short and medium term.
- Cancer pain could arise from cancer itself or treatment-of-cancer such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
What are the warning symptoms of cancer?
Cancer symptoms can include:
- A sudden loss in weight – on average an individual can expect to experience approximately 5 kilograms of unexplained weight loss
- Fever, especially once the cancer has begun to spread throughout the body or if your treatment is affecting your immune system
- Other forms of pain may also present, neck pain can often be associated with brain tumours and back pain is linked to colon, rectal and ovarian cancers
- Bone pain – this form of pain can happen when the cancer originates in or begins to spread to your bones.
- Feeling more fatigued than usual and not improving with rest
- Skin may change to a yellow or red colour and begin to become itchy and irritated
- Coughing that can sometimes produce blood which is a strong indicator of lung cancer
- Phantom pain – this can be one of the longer-lasting effects of surgery, aside from the usual surgical pain. In the case where you’ve had a leg, arm, or even a breast removed during surgery, you may still experience pain or other unpleasant or unusual sensations that feel like they are coming from the missing limb or body part.
Who is at risk of cancer pain?
Anyone can be at risk of cancer pain as cancer is a disease that affects on average more than 140,000 people in Australia per year.
Cancer can also present in a wide variety of forms and areas in the body so the best way to reduce the risk of cancer is to have regular check-ups with your doctor to make sure that there are no signs of cancer present.
What are the treatments for cancer pain?
When it comes to treatment for cancer it is crucial that it is detected early as it will give the individual affected the best chance for the treatment to be effective in fighting off the cancer.
There are a variety of treatments available for those suffering from cancer pain, these include:
- Cancer specific treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
- Getting surgery to reduce the size of a tumour or remove it from your body
- Radiation therapy – side effects that may be experienced due to this treatment include redness and a burning sensation on the skin as well as mouth sores, diarrhea and fatigue, Long term side effects may include chronic pain.
- Chemotherapy – there also may be additional side effects to this form of therapy such as nausea, fatigue, infection and hair loss, chemotherapy induced neuropathy and pain are common side effects of this type of treatment.
- The prescription of opioid drugs such as oxycodone, morphine, hydromorphone, fentanyl, methadone and oxymorphone. Although these drugs are considered highly addictive in nature it has been proven that it is very rare for a cancer patient to become addicted as a doctor will lower the dosage as you begin to recover allowing your body to not suffer from withdrawals.
- Neurosurgical techniques such as neurostimulators and pain pumps which will deliver electricity of painkillers directly to the area that is being affected
- Stimulators which send small electric currents through a person’s nerves which will interrupt the passage of pain sensation from the nerves to the brain
- Nerve blocks such as Coeliac plexus block.
- Neuro-Ablative procedures which work by freezing/destroying the nerves, spinal cord or brain tissue responsible for the sensation of pain. This is typically used if neither of the previous methods are effective.
- When in remission, cancer patients who are still experiencing pain will need treatments similar to chronic non-cancer–pain patients. They will benefit form a multidisciplinary pain management and a range of treatments will be available to them such as pain psychology, pain physiotherapy, pain exercise physiology etc.