Pain in Cancer: Types of Pain

While cancer-related pain is reported in nearly half of all patients, the good news is that you don’t have to endure it.

Cancer-Related Pain

The tumor. A tumor growing in an organ, such as the liver, may stretch part of the organ. This stretching can cause pain. If a tumor grows and spreads to the bones, it may weaken the bones and damage them, causing pain. If a tumor spreads or grows around the spinal cord or a nerve, it can cause nerve pain, also called neuropathic pain.

Chemotherapy. Some chemotherapy can cause pain, along with numbness and tingling in the fingers and toes, also called peripheral neuropathy. This pain may go away when a person finishes treatment. However, sometimes the damage is long-lasting and can continue to cause pain and other side effects.
Hormonal therapy. Hormonal therapy, or endocrine therapy, may cause muscle and bone pain. These treatments can increase a person’s risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures, which also cause pain.
Stem cell/bone marrow transplant. Transplantation may cause pain, particularly if the patient develops a serious side effect of this treatment called graft-versus-host disease.
Many different types of treatments are available, including medications, acupuncture, hypnosis, massage, relaxation techniques, physical activity, transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS) and behavioral therapies. 
From massage to meditation, integrative medicine — which uses evidence-based, complementary practices in combination with conventional medicine — can help cancer patients and survivors regain health and build a lifestyle focused on wellness.
If you’re experiencing the following conditions, your doctor can provide a referral to an occupational therapist, physical therapist, interventional pain specialist, supportive and palliative care physician, urologist, clinical social worker or another specialist. Always bring new or worsening pain symptoms to the attention of your medical providers.

Post-Radiation Pain

Radiation treatment can cause external pain, including skin burns, mouth sores or painful scarring. It can also cause internal pain in the treated area, particularly when radiation is directed toward the throat, intestine or bladder.  

Post-radiation pain can occur immediately, or even months or years after radiation.

Other Types of Pain

Post-Surgical Pain

Post-surgical pain is often a short-term, intense pain related to nerve damage, inflammation or tissue trauma following surgery. 
While the intensity and duration of recovery varies depending on the surgery, studies show that up to 60 percent of survivors experience this type of pain. 
There are cases where post-operative pain can become chronic if it persists for an extended period of time after healing.

Phantom Pain

When a leg, arm, breast or limb has been surgically removed, survivors might experience phantom pain that seems to be coming from the absent body part.  

This is a normal experience and can be treated through medication, physical therapy or other interventions.

Arthralgias and Myalgias

Cancer treatments often cause joint pain (arthralgias) and muscle aches (myalgias), with aching symptoms similar to arthritis.
These conditions affect about 50 percent of women taking aromatase inhibitors, and are often worse in the morning and improve during the day as you move.

Get Help with Cancer Pain: Supportive Care Medicine

City of Hope's Department of Supportive Care Medicine provides specialized care for people with serious illnesses, focusing on relieving symptoms such as pain. By taking an interdisciplinary team approach to providing comprehensive, holistic care to address symptoms like these associated with cancer and cancer treatment, we’re able to help alleviate patient discomfort, not just treat their illness. Our staff is trained in advanced communication skills, making them able to help patients document their values and goals, and assist with advance care planning.

Resources offered by the Department of Supportive Care Medicine include: