Cancer & Pain Awareness
September is Pain Awareness Month. This month was established by the American Chronic Pain Association in 2001. In honor of Pain Awareness Month, let’s learn more about the issues surrounding pain and cancer.
Many cancer patients experience pain at some point in their cancer journey. According to the National Cancer Institute:
- 20% to 50% of all cancer patients experience pain, and
- About 80% of patients with advanced cancer have moderate to severe pain.
If you experience pain, talk to your healthcare team to develop a pain management plan that’s right for you. You do not have to live in pain. Do not feel weak for asking for help. Any pain that disrupts your quality of life needs to be addressed.
Types of Pain
Pain can be caused by the cancer itself, side effects of treatment, or a comorbidity. A comorbidity is another health issue occurring at the same time such as diabetes. Pain can come in many forms, including aching, stabbing, tingling, or throbbing. Pain may either be acute or chronic. Acute pain has an obvious start and end such as pain at the incision site after surgery. Once the incision heals, the pain often goes away. Chronic pain lasts longer than three months. Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), tingling in the hands or feet, is an example of chronic pain because of nerve damage from chemotherapy. Dealing with chronic pain can bring its own side effects such as depression, weight loss, and decline in quality of life.
The best pain management plan is the one that works for you! If you need help talking to your healthcare team about pain, try using these communication tools from the American Chronic Pain Association. Your pain management plan may include any of the following:
- Pain medications
- Physical therapy
- Complementary and integrative medicine
Pain can be a difficult side effect to treat. Part of your plan may also be to identify things that trigger your pain. Once you know what makes your pain worse, you may be able to avoid the triggers. It may take a few tries to find the best plan for you. Be open and honest with your healthcare team. Do not be afraid to seek a second option if needed.
Fear of Addiction
Fear of addiction can deter patients from seeking pain medication from their doctors and may result in unnecessary suffering, according to the American Chronic Pain Association. When taken as prescribed and under a doctor’s supervision, the risk of addiction is very low. If you are worried about addiction, talk to your doctor about your fears. As with any medication, take pain medications following your doctors’ orders and do not stop or start any medications (including over-the-counter medications) without consulting with your healthcare team.
Unfortunately, depression and pain often go hand in hand. Unmanaged chronic pain can lead to depression. Physical pain can be a side effect of depression as well. Taking care of your emotional well-being is an important part of pain management. There are a number of ways to find emotional support—peer partnering programs, support groups, and one-on-one counseling. Talk to your healthcare team about your emotional well-being, not just your physical health. You may benefit from professional counseling or antidepressants.
To learn more about cancer and pain, visit the following sites: