I have never had cancer, but my father did.
He was a bright, able man who thought he should tough it out when the pain started.
By the time he went to the doctor, it was too late.
His “toughness” left him with no hope for a cure.
I lost my father young and I still grieve for him every day.
I’d hoped that he’d know his grandchildren. He’d have been brilliant with my two as he was with me.
I watched the life and love drain from him as the pain took hold and the cancer ripped him from me. I wish I’d known then what I know now.
I couldn’t have saved his life but I could have helped him manage his pain better.
I hope that I can help you instead. He’d be pleased to know that somebody wasn’t suffering like he was.
The Causes Of Cancer Pain
Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that not all cancers cause pain. About 1 in 10 cancer victims won’t suffer from any pain at all. That makes it important not to ignore symptoms such as unusual bumps or changes in appearance or behavior of any part of your body. Pain is not the only sign that something might be wrong
However, 9 in 10 cancers do cause pain. It can be an early warning sign that something is wrong. If you wake up with pain in the middle of the night and there’s no explanation for it – go see your physician. There might be nothing wrong but let them make that diagnosis. Don’t tough it out like my dad.
If you do suffer from pain with cancer then the pain may have one of two root causes:
- Cancer tumors often press against bone or nerve and vital organs. This causes something known as neuropathic pain. In essence, it’s a pain of the nerves in your body. It’s quite real and it can be quite unpleasant.
- Cancer treatments may also cause pain. Chemotherapy is known to cause numbness and tingling in limbs and burning at the point of injection is very common. Radiotherapy can cause irritation and inflammation.
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Cancer Pain May Be Acute Pain Or It May Be Chronic Pain
We don’t talk much about acute pain on Pain Authority. That’s because in most instances acute pain is fleeting and temporary. It’s a sign that our body is injured and it normally goes away in a short period of time.
However, it’s important to note that acute pain is a common warning sign of cancer (particularly if it wakes you when you are sleeping) as well as during cancer following diagnosis.
The good news is that prescription painkillers are pretty good at tackling acute pain. The better news is that it normally goes away pretty quickly too.
Chronic pain is different. This is the result of cancer or the treatments you receive permanently altering your nerves. It may persist even after the cancer has gone. It can be mild or it can be severe. It may also come and go over long periods so that acute pain becomes a form of chronic pain.
5 Types Of Cancer Pain
You will need to work with your physician in order to diagnose the type of pain you are experiencing with cancer. There are 5 areas of pain and each of them requires different forms of medical treatment.
It is possible that you are suffering from more than one, or indeed all 5, types of pain. So, don’t be afraid to go back and talk to your physician many times about your pain if that’s what it takes.
Research shows that while cancer victims’ pain is often manageable using a combination of prescription drugs and natural therapy, far too many people are living in pain unnecessarily.
This is because doctors are reluctant to prescribe pain relief for fear of being criticized for it and because patients don’t demand pain relief. If your doctor won’t help – don’t be afraid to seek another doctor that will.
The 5 types of pain are:
Neuropathic pain is the posh medical term for nerve pain. It stems from damage to the nerves or pressure on the nerves or spinal cord.
This kind of pain is described by people as “burning, shooting, tingling or even as a sort of crawling beneath the skin.” This may make it hard for you to describe this kind of pain accurately when you talk to a doctor. Don’t be afraid to walk through it several times until you’re sure you’ve explained as best as you can.
If you have an operation as part of your cancer treatment, nerve pain may last for a long time following. This is because nerves are often severed during surgery and they take ages to heal properly.
Nerve pain may also be triggered by cancer treatments including both chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
This kind of pain occurs when the cancer actually spreads into the bone. This causes the underlying tissue of the bone to become damaged. In these instances, some cancers attack many different bone areas and others only attack a single area.
The pain is expected to be dull, aching or throbbing if you have bone pain. It’s sometimes called “somatic” pain.
Soft Tissue Pain
Soft tissue is the muscle and organs of the body. They are “softer” than the bone tissue of your body,
Pain can manifest throughout the body because of tissue damage. It may not be in the same place as the damage, though. It is quite typical for kidney damage, for example, to manifest itself as back pain.
This means your physician needs to be careful before assuming the cause of pain in cases of tissue damage. Ask them to ensure they’ve ruled everything out thoroughly after their diagnosis or if there’s a need to investigate further if treatment doesn’t help.
This is the unkindest form of pain known to anyone. It is pain that is perceived in an area of the body that has already been removed.
It is very common for women who have undergone a mastectomy, for example, to say they feel pain in the missing breast or breasts.
It is 100% real and it is not a figment of your imagination. Nobody knows quite how phantom pain occurs, but it may be to do with:
- Nerves being permanently severed during the removal of the body part.
- The brain struggling to reconcile the expectation of sensation from a body part that can no longer produce such a sensation.
- Poor pain control during the surgical approach itself. This doesn’t mean that your surgeon was negligent, by the way, in some cases pain control simply cannot be managed well. It is beyond our current medical technology or capability.
The figures on phantom pain are quite amazing though. 50% of people who lose an arm or a leg say they experience it to some extent. 33% of women with a mastectomy say the same thing.
The good news is that for the vast majority of people, the phantom pain will disappear within the first few months following the loss of the body part. Unfortunately, a few people continue to experience such pain for years after the surgery.
Referred pain is an odd form of pain. It takes place when one body part is hurt but the pain is transferred elsewhere in the body.
One classic example is an inflammation of the liver may result in shoulder pain. Not because your liver is anywhere near your shoulder but because it pushes on a nerve which travels through the shoulder.
So pain is often more complicated than you might otherwise expect.
How Much Pain Can Someone With Cancer Expect?
This is the $64 million question. Sadly, I can’t give you an exact answer. The medical profession cannot give you an answer either.
As I said at the start, 1 in 10 people with cancer won’t ever feel any pain at all. The other 90% will experience anything from brief mild acute pain episodes to long drawn out periods of severe chronic pain.
The factors that affect pain from cancer include:
- The type of cancer. Some cancers do more damage than others. Some grow faster than others. Some latch on to parts of the body which easily trigger pain. Some do not. While your doctor cannot tell you how much pain you will have from cancer, they should have an idea as to whether you will suffer from pain or not.
- Where the cancer is. Some cancers can manifest all around the body and where they manifest is absolutely going to dictate how much pain someone is in.
- The severity of the cancer. Cancers come in different stages. They all start small and if left unchecked, they eventually grow larger and spread. The earlier you catch a cancer and treat it – the less painful it is likely to be.
- Whether nerve damage has occurred. The cancer and the treatments can cause nerve damage. If this damage has taken place – it is likely that you’re going to feel pain.
- Personal factors. It won’t come as much of a surprise but if you’re depressed or anxious, you’re more likely to feel pain and it’s more likely to be severe. A lack of sleep may also cause additional pain. It’s also worth noting that general stress can affect pain too.
There is a big lesson in all of this. Never damage occurs over time. It is not an immediate process. If you find your pain gets worse while you are being treated for cancer – tell your physician. If it moves or becomes chronic in nature, tell your physician.
Suffering in silence does not help you. It does not help your doctor who will be well paid for taking care of you. The only people who might be happy about this state of affairs are insurance companies who will save a few bucks. You don’t want to be in pain to save an insurer cash. Trust me.
Pain Treatment When You Have Cancer
Let me be perfectly clear about this – listen to your physician about your cancer. Take prescription pain relief and any other meds they offer. Don’t assume that “drugs are bad m’kay?”
Steve Jobs, yes the former CEO of Apple, had only one regret in life. He regretted not trusting his doctors and seeking “alternative treatment” for cancer. It almost certainly got him killed.
You can take natural remedies as well as anything your doctor prescribes. Just make sure to discuss those natural remedies with your physician, just to make sure they won’t interfere with each other.
If in doubt, always give precedence to what the doctor prescribes you. Don’t end up like Steve Jobs.
Sometimes, however, you may find that even when your pain regime is effective that you get a sudden additional burst of pain. This is common. It’s called “breakthrough pain”. Doctors can help with this too by giving you additional medication for such episodes. So always explain your pain to your physician.
Get Support For Cancer Pain
Pain sucks. I can’t imagine how much cancer pain must suck. I saw how bad it was for my dad but I didn’t have to feel it myself.
This can be debilitating and make it hard to cope with even small things like bathing, shopping, sleeping, etc.
So, don’t be afraid to ask family and friends to pitch in to help you. Pain is always better with a little support from those who love us.
In summary, cancer pain is complicated but it can be managed. You should discuss every detail with your health professional. Don’t be afraid to use natural remedies but always take the prescribed remedies too.
I also recommend CBD for any type of pain. It’s legal. It doesn’t get you high and best of all, it’s safe to take with other drugs.