Pain Management for Survivors
Cancer-related pain is very common among cancer survivors and is reported in nearly half of all cancer patients. The good news is that you do not need to endure pain. Long-term pain as a result of cancer diagnosis or treatment can and must be addressed. If you have pain, whether it’s from the cancer, cancer treatment or other noncancer related health problems, please talk to your health care team. Your doctors and nurses are here to help you find out what is causing it and how to treat it.
Common types of cancer-related pain
Joint pain and muscle aches
Joint pain (arthralgias) and muscle aches (myalgias) are common among cancer survivors and affect about 50% of women taking aromatase inhibitors. This type of pain is often described as similar to arthritis, with aching throughout the body. Arthralgias and myalgias are typically worse in the morning and slowly get better with movement throughout the day.
Radiation treatment can cause external pain, including skin burns, mouth sores or painful scarring. It can also cause internal pain in the treated area, most commonly when radiation is directed toward the throat, intestine or bladder. Postradiation pain can occur immediately, months later or even years after radiation.
Pain after surgery is often short-term but can include intense pain related to nerve damage, inflammation or tissue trauma from surgery. While the intensity and duration of recovery depend on the type of surgery you had, studies show that 60% of cancer survivors who undergo surgery experience postsurgical pain. There are cases where postsurgery pain can become chronic pain if it persists for an extended period of time after healing.
Phantom pain is a unique form of pain that may occur following surgery. When a leg, arm, breast or limb has been surgically removed, survivors may experience pain that seems to be coming from the missing body part. This is a normal experience and can be treated through medication, physical therapy or other interventions. If you are experiencing phantom pain, talk with your doctor about finding the right treatment for you.
Pain impacts your quality of life, including your ability to get a good night’s sleep, daily activities and your emotions and mood. Cancer pain can be reduced so that you can enjoy your normal routines and sleep better. There are many different treatments available to ease pain, including medications, integrative medicine practices, physical activity, TENS (transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation) and behavioral therapies. If you are experiencing pain, your doctor may provide you with a referral to an occupational therapist, physical therapist, interventional pain specialist, palliative care physician, urologist, social worker or another specialist.
Self-management tips to help ease the pain
Change it up
Have you been sitting still because of your pain? Make sure to change your position at least every two hours to prevent stiffness and sore skin.
Get hot or cold
Hot packs or ice packs can help relieve pain, but make sure to wrap them in a soft towel to avoide damage to your skin.
Get your mind off it
Doing other activities such as reading, watching a movie or chatting with a friend can help take your mind off the aches and pain.
What things help you relax? Try using music as a relaxation technique.
Take a breath
Try to breathe slowly and deeply when you are tense.
Integrative medicine practices like aromatherapy, hypnotherapy, massage, acupuncture and reflexology may help relieve some pain.