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Coping With Pain During Cancer Treatment

August 21, 2014

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you may experience a number of side effects during treatment, from and hair loss to and . These side effects are a normal part of the treatment process, and as doctors, it’s our job to help you cope with them.

However, pain can be one of the most difficult side effects to cope with during cancer treatment. It can be caused by the treatment you’re receiving, or it may be the result of the tumor itself.

There are several different types of cancer pain, with one of the most common being acute pain. Acute pain is a sudden, short-term pain that can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. You may also have what is known as chronic pain, which either recurs frequently or never goes away. Some people also experience breakthrough pain, an intense, sudden pain that may be associated with certain activities.

If you have pain, it’s important to seek relief and be open with your doctor about what you’re feeling. Not every person who has cancer experiences pain, but if you do, there are ways to relieve or manage it.

Here are some key tips to help you cope:

Talk Openly with Your Doctor

As medical professionals, we’re here to help you. But it’s important that you communicate with your doctor about what you’re feeling, especially physically.

My goal is to help my patients feel their best, and that can only happen when I know what kind of pain they’re experiencing.

As doctors, we sometimes encounter patients who don’t want to discuss their pain because they’re worried about the additional costs of pain medication or they just want to focus on their treatment. However, these concerns shouldn’t outweigh your efforts to control or get rid of your pain. The sooner we know about your pain, the sooner we can treat it. So, the best thing to do is talk to your doctor—and be as descriptive as possible—about what is going on.

Now, you may be wondering, “What’s the best way to describe my pain?” Try using a pain intensity scale to tell your doctor the level of pain you’re experiencing. It allows you to rate how intense your pain is on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst pain imaginable.

You also should tell your doctor where and how you feel pain. For example, is it sudden, sharp, throbbing or burning? Also, be sure to keep a record of your pain on a daily basis. What were you doing when you first felt the pain and does the pain disrupt certain everyday activities? All of this is important information that helps us create the best pain control plan for you.

Use Pain Relief Medicines as Prescribed

Depending on your medical history and the type of pain you have, your doctor may prescribe pain medication for you. While there are many different kinds of pain medications, they can be classified into two main types. Non-opioids, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, treat mild to moderate pain, while opioids, such as methadone and codeine, treat moderate to severe pain.

In certain instances, I have found that some people are hesitant to take pain medication because they’re worried about potential addiction. But if you use the medication according to the dosage and method your doctor prescribes, this outcome is rare.

And if you’re worried about potential side effects, you should tell your doctor right away about any changes you experience after starting the medication. That way, he or she can change your medication or the dosage.

Consider Acupuncture or Physical Therapy

While pain medication is often an effective way to treat cancer pain, it isn’t the only way. Physical therapy and acupuncture can also help control and even eliminate pain.

Physical therapy, in particular, can be very helpful for pain treatment and management. Physical therapists are highly skilled and know how to direct treatment to the source of your pain. They use pressure, heat, massage and exercise to help you feel better.

Acupuncture, on the other hand, involves placing thin needles in different parts of the body where pain is present in order to relieve symptoms. Acupuncture may not work for every person, but it can be very effective in certain cases. Before starting acupuncture, you should make sure you talk with your doctor first, especially if you’re currently undergoing chemotherapy.

Relax, Meditate or Do Yoga

We often forget this as we’re going through cancer treatment, but your mind, body and spirit are all important to your overall health. If you’ve never tried yoga or meditation before, it might be beneficial to start, especially if you’re experiencing pain.

Recent studies have shown that yoga helps to increase physical functioning in people undergoing cancer treatment, and it can also help you relax and better handle stress. Meditation and relaxation techniques have been shown to offer similar benefits as well. So give it a try—you might find that it works for you!

Nerve Blocks or Surgery

Nerve blocks or surgery may be options if pain medication or the other approaches I mentioned don’t offer relief for you. Therapeutic nerve blocks involve injecting a nerve-numbing medication into the area of the body where the pain is located, which helps with treatment and pain management. Surgery may also be an option if you have ongoing pain, but like nerve blocks, there are risks and possible complications. Be sure to talk with your doctor about which option is best for you.

To learn more about managing and treating cancer pain, take a look at this brochure from the National Cancer Institute.