Pain may or may not be present. Pain felt after treatment may be of three different kinds: acute, chronic or breakthrough. Acute pain is severe and goes away fairly quickly when the injury that caused it heals. Pain is diagnosed as chronic if it lasts longer than three months; at this point it needs to be treated with either pain medicine, physiotherapy or both. Breakthrough pain is when it persists despite treatment. Sometimes chemotherapy can cause peripheral neuropathy (PN), which is a kind of pain, burning or tingling sensation caused by nerve damage. Radiation can cause mucositis (mouth or throat sores), skin burns and scarring, all of which can cause pain.
Pain can result when cancer tumour press on the spinal cord or another organ. Other symptoms related to the compressed area might also appear, such as numbness or weakness of an arm or leg. Bone pain can arise when the bones are affected; it is important to treat this because it is a sign of bone weakness and can lead to fractures.
Treatment for pain involves both medications and non-medical techniques.
- Medical treatments include opioids and non-opioid medications that can be administered by mouth in pill form, using a skin patch, suppositories, injections or a pump that lets you control the timing and amount of medication, which goes directly into the blood stream or in the spinal canal.
- Non-medical treatments may involve imagery, which is a technique in which you focus on positive images in your mind to aid in deep relaxation and pain relief. Other techniques include acupuncture, biofeedback, hypnosis, skin stimulation, massage, pressure, vibration, transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS), and cold or heat. All of these techniques help you to relax your muscles and distract your mind from the pain as well as blocking the nerves and partly numbing the painful area. The American Cancer Society recommends developing a pain control plan to help with pain management. To facilitate appropriate management of cancer pain, a group of prominent Canadian specialists in palliative care, oncology, and anesthesiology convened to develop a set of recommendations and suggestions to assist Canadian health care providers in the treatment of cancer pain and the alleviation of the suffering and discomfort experienced by adult cancer patients. Among the recommendations they proposed are a set of tools and scales to measure pain and the knowledge that pain in cancer patients is multifactorial and should be treated throughout the lifespan of the survivor.