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Cancer and pain

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It is not uncommon for people suffering from cancer to experience pain. But is it a necessary burden to carry throughout the illness? The answer is: “Absolutely not!” Indeed, there are effective treatments to eradicate pain associated with cancer.

Pain: better understanding for better management

After the shock of learning you have cancer, you have decided to roll up your sleeves and win the fight of your life. Your mind is filled with a million questions and concerns, including the fear of experiencing pain. But rest assured: these days, the medical community has a much greater knowledge of the different aspects of pain linked to cancer, and there is a wide array of medications that can help you.

Several factors can influence pain, such as:

  • age;
  • stage of the illness;
  • type of cancer;
  • treatment received;
  • emotions such as sadness, stress and fear;
  • fatigue;
  • support of loved ones.

Pain can be experienced as a feeling of pressure, burning or tingling. Depending on the sensation you are feeling, your health professional will have an idea of where the pain is coming from. For example, if you are feeling pressure, it is likely that the pain is coming from an organ. On the other hand, if you are feeling tingling or burning, it is probably the nervous system that is affected. Pain can either be temporary or last throughout the illness.

What causes pain?

To treat pain properly, it is essential to know its cause. There are actually several:

  • the tumour is invading tissue and bones;
  • the tumour, or the inflammation caused by the tumour, is constricting nerves or blood vessels;
  • an organ, such as the intestine, is obstructed by a mass;
  • surgery;
  • chemotherapy;
  • radiation therapy.

Pain: talking about it without worrying

Many people who are fighting cancer prefer not to discuss the pain they are experiencing. There are several reasons why they do so:

  • fear of worrying their loved ones;
  • fear that more pain means that the illness is getting worse;
  • fear of disturbing health professionals;
  • fear of becoming “dependant on medication.”

It is important to recognize that the people surrounding you are there to help you; what they want, most of all, is for you to feel better. By talking about your pain, your loved ones can help find solutions to make you more comfortable (ex: changing furniture, helping with housekeeping chores, accompanying you to appointments, etc.).

In addition, don’t hesitate to discuss the pain you are experiencing with your doctor, pharmacist or another member of your health-care team. There is no miracle solution that works for everyone to treat pain. Each case is unique, but it is possible to find effective solutions for relief for each one. Keeping a journal can greatly help your pharmacist or doctor find the right pain treatment for you.

There is no link between the severity of the illness and pain. Some people are severely ill, but feel no pain, while others experience significant pain despite having cancer that is less aggressive or in an early stage.

Treating pain

It is important to treat pain as rapidly as possible in order to prevent it from worsening and becoming harder to manage.

The consequences of unmanaged pain should not be overlooked; they can include:

  • fatigue and exhaustion;
  • depression;
  • anxiety;
  • inability to relax or sleep;
  • inability to work or enjoy favourite activities;
  • difficulties in personal or social relations.

It is possible to relieve pain in different ways. Cancer treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, can sometimes result in a decrease in pain.

You can also take analgesics. It is possible that a health professional may recommend you take analgesics regularly in order to control pain continuously rather than taking them only when needed.

If pain is mild to moderate, using analgesics such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be of great help.

For severe pain, opiates, such as morphine and derivatives, can prove to be very helpful. These medications are highly effective and have an extremely low risk of dependency when they are properly used to manage pain. However, they can cause side effects, such as:

  • drowsiness;
  • dizziness;
  • constipation;
  • nausea.

Your pharmacist can suggest simple measures to prevent or treat these side effects.

Opiates come in various forms and can be administered in different ways: oral medications, transdermal patches, injections and infusion pumps.

Aside from opiates, there is a wide array of medication that can help. They belong to different classes, such as:

  • non-opioid analgesics;
  • antidepressants;
  • anticonvulsants;
  • muscle relaxants;
  • anaesthetics.

If you are suffering from cancer, you need all of your strength to fight it. It is important for you to be open about the pain you feel and to not let it weaken you. Your doctor and pharmacist will make it a priority to try and find ways to make you feel better; with all of today’s available tools, there is no reason for you to live with unmanaged pain. Express yourself to silence your pain… that way, you’ll be able to direct your energy where it is most needed!

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