19 Oct The Top 3 Things That Cause Pain in Cancer Patients
Pain is one of the most prevalent symptoms of nearly every form of cancer. From a treatment standpoint, cancer pain is a pretty broad topic inasmuch as it is caused by many different things. It’s not unusual for cancer patients to experience pain on a number of different fronts, all of which require a different treatment approach.
Cancer pain is something we are familiar with at Lone Star Pain Medicine. We regularly work with cancer patients to identify the root causes of their pain so that it can be treated accordingly. Generally speaking, here are the top three things that cause pain in cancer patients:
1. The Cancer Itself
It goes without saying that the disease that is cancer causes pain all by itself. Two examples we are intimately familiar with are spinal and bone pain. For example, it is not unusual for tumors to spread to the spine. When that happens, spinal compression can occur.
Spinal compression exists when something is pressing on nerves within the spine. A tumor can obviously do that. Most cases of cancer-related spinal compression first present with mild pain and numbness. As the tumor grows and puts more pressure on the affected nerves, symptoms grow more severe.
Bone pain most often presents when cancer occurs in, or spreads to, the bones. However, bone pain can also occur as the result of certain types of cancer medications. In such cases, the cancer itself has not reached the bone. Yet the drugs the patient is taking are encouraging increased bone marrow activity, resulting in pain.
2. Treatment-Induced Pain
Unfortunately, there is no pleasant way to treat cancer. Many forms of cancer are aggressive enough to have to be treated with equal aggression. The downside is that aggressive cancer treatments can be quite uncomfortable.
The most common form of treatment-induced pain is related to surgery. Given that cancer surgeries are invasive, at least some amount of pain is expected – especially when tumors are removed. There are also times when surgical pain leads to phantom pain later on.
Other treatments can cause pain as well. For instance, chemotherapy and radiation treatment can lead directly to painful mouth sores and abdominal pain. Radiation injuries, including skin burns and scarring of the intestines, can cause mild to severe pain.
The unfortunate aspect of treatment-induced pain is that it can encourage patients to discontinue cancer treatment. There are times when patients already feel bad enough from the cancer itself. They decide they no longer want to have to experience the added discomfort of treatment.
This is obviously a personal choice. Professionally, we hate to see patients give up on treatment too quickly. There are some ways to treat cancer pain without significantly increasing discomfort.
3. Secondary Nerve Pain
Finally, cancer patients may experience secondary nerve pain presented as either neuritis or peripheral neuropathy. Neuritis is essentially a condition of inflamed nerves. Peripheral neuropathy is similar, except that it isn’t just inflammation the patient is dealing with. Instead, there is actual nerve damage.
Peripheral neuropathy mainly affects the extremities. Patients experience pain, weakness, and numbness in the legs, arms, hands, and feet. Note that peripheral neuropathy isn’t limited only to cancer patients. It is a common symptom in several other diseases, including diabetes.
Unfortunately, cancer is a disease capable of causing a lot of pain in a lot of different ways. It often takes a pain specialist to determine the best way to offer cancer patients the most relief possible. As time goes by, pain specialists are learning more effective ways to manage cancer pain.