Written by ASIAMED CONNECT & APOLLO HOSPITALS
Cancer isn’t always painful though it is often painful. Some people with cancer have no pain at all. About 1 in 2 people who are treated for cancer have pain after their treatment. About 9 in 10 people with advanced cancer (cancer that spreads through the body from its original site) have pain.
Why does cancer cause pain?
Pain happens when nerves detect damage to the body and send a message to the brain, causing the sensation of pain to occur. Pain is useful when it helps you avoid doing something harmful, like putting your hand in very hot water. With cancer and other illnesses, it can alert you to the fact that there is a problem, like a tumour growing.
There is pain associated with cancer for the following reasons:
*Tumours can press on a nerve or interfere with the way an organ works
*Surgery and radiotherapy can cause pain when normal tissue is damaged
*Nerves can transmit pain around the body, so pain can sometimes be felt in a place well away from the thing that is causing it. This is called ‘referred' pain.
How does it feel?
It can be sharp or dull, mild or strong, short term or long term. When it's not relieved, pain can cause a lot of tension and fatigue.
How is cancer pain treated?
There are different ways to treat cancer pain. Treatment which is aimed at relieving pain (rather than curing a disease) is called ‘palliation' or ‘palliative treatment'.
The main treatments for pain are pain relieving drugs like paracetamol and aspirin, codeine, morphine and other opiates.
Radiotherapy can be very effective in helping ease pain by reducing the size of a tumour, especially tumours that grow in the bones. Nerves that are triggering pain can be blocked. This can be done with anaesthetic, chemicals, freezing or heat.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) can stimulate nerves so that the body releases natural painkillers, called endorphins. This can help some kinds of cancer pain.
Side effects of drugs: Morphine and similar drugs can cause constipation, nausea, drowsiness, hallucinations etc.
Side effects from palliative radiotherapy: The main side effects of palliative radiotherapy are tiredness, nausea and poor appetite over the course of the radiotherapy. The area of skin where one has radiotherapy can become irritated and feel like it is sunburnt.
Complementary therapies for pain relief:
Complementary therapies can be used with medical treatments. They may reduce the amount of medical pain relief one needs. Some may help cancer patients feel calmer. Acupuncture may help with some cancer pain. Hypnotherapy may help with some pain, but is unlikely to work with all cancer pain. Relaxation techniques like meditation, visualisation, massage and music therapy can help to relieve feelings of anxiety that can worsen cancer pain.
Alternative therapies for pain relief
Complimentary therapies are different from alternative therapies. Alternative therapies can be harmful, especially if: one uses them instead of medical treatment. Alternative therapies are unproven and include some herbal and dietary remedies that are used instead of medical treatment. Some of these have been tested scientifically and found to be not effective or even harmful.
Other methods of pain relief:
Other non-medical measures for mild or moderate pain include hot water bottles and ice packs and warm baths.