Pain can be a major problem for people with some forms of cancer. Pain
is not typical of all kinds of cancer. Some cancers, depending on
their type or location, cause little or no pain at all. Today, most
cancer pain can be controlled because of the advances made in
understanding what causes pain and how to treat it.
People with cancer can experience pain at any point during the
illness. Pain can result from aggressive, curative cancer treatment
such as nerve damage following surgery. Pain Control clinics treat
this kind of pain. People with advanced illness can experience pain
due to the spread of disease to other parts of the body, such as
spread of the cancer to bones. Pain is not something you must "learn
to live with." Pain must be treated because it interferes with every
part of a person's life. Don't accept pain as a "way of life" because
you have cancer. Be assured that it can be managed with help from
knowledgeable health care professionals.
Many myths about pain still exist. The most troubling one is that too
much medication will cause addiction Research has shown this to be
completely false. Addiction is a psychological or emotional dependence
on feeling "high". People with cancer do not take drugs to get "high"
but to relieve their pain. When the proper dosage of medication is
taken around the clock, addiction does not occur. People with cancer
can take pain medications indefinitely, if properly used, without
concern that they will become addicted.
People also worry that if they take their medications continuously,
they will become "immune" to that dosage and need higher dosages until
no dosage will work. There is no such thing as "running out" of pain
medicine. Pain management and hospice teams are experts in pain
control. They will work with you to find the right treatment or
combination of medications to keep you pain-free and alert so that you
can participate in life.
Describing pain in detail to your doctor or nurse will help them
decide the best way to treat your pain. Try to use descriptive words
such as sharp burning, dull or aching. It may also be helpful to keep
a diary of your pain so that you can describe what makes the pain
better or worse.
HOW PAIN-CONTROL SERVICES CAN HELP
- Provide outpatient or home evaluation and treatment with
pills, liquid medications, and/or intravenous infusion with the
assistance of a portable pump. Keeping pain continuously under control
is important. If people "hold off" on their medications, the pain will
return. Then the pain may be harder to control with the next dose of
- Prescribe brief hospitalization in cases of severe or poorly
managed pain so that treatments can be evaluated and the best method
of control determined.
- Offer nerve blocks and surgical procedures, in certain cases,
to provide permanent relief from pain.
- Provide counseling to help you cope with the problems of pain.
HOW DO YOU FIND THESE SERVICES?
- Because pain has been such a problem in the past for people
with cancer, it has become an area of great interest and the subject
of research studies for many doctors and nurses. Specialists in pain
control are doctors who have advanced training in this field. If your
doctor is unable to refer you to a specialist in pain management, call
the Cancer Information Service (1-800-4-CANCER). Living with
uncontrolled pain will make it very difficult for you to cope with
- If you have been referred to a hospice program, you can expect
the doctors and nurses to provide pain control. If you are not
participating in a hospice program, talk to the doctor who is treating
you for your cancer. If your doctor has been unable to control your
pain, ask to be referred to a specialist in pain management or to a
- Sometimes doctors have the same misconceptions about pain as the
general public. They may not be aware of the advances made in this
field, or they may be reluctant to experiment with medications and the
dosages necessary to control the pain. Most doctors are as anxious as
you are for you to be comfortable and free from pain; people become
doctors to relieve suffering. If you need a specialist to control your
pain, ask for a referral.
- Family members sometimes worry that the patient will "overdose" on
their medications or that medications given through injections will
cause a coma or death. The goal of good pain management is to relieve
suffering. Pain management programs or hospice programs will teach you
and your family about the proper amount of medication that will give
you relief without any danger of harm.
- For more information about pain, call your local American Cancer
Society and ask for its booklet, "Questions and Answers About Pain
Frequently Asked Questions
National Cancer Institute