Cancer Treatment

Pain Management

For those living with cancer, pain management can be a vital component of the treatment plan. Many patients with advanced cancer experience pain during the course of their disease and unrelieved pain can significantly diminish your quality of life. Cancer pain may be acute or chronic. Acute pain generally results from tissue damage and is of limited duration. Once the cause of pain has been identified, it can be successfully managed. Chronic pain, on the other hand, is persistent--usually greater than three months in duration. Because the cause of chronic pain often cannot be altered, your nervous system will adapt, which may cause depression, anxiety and/or insomnia.

The severity and prevalence of pain you may experience depend on many factors, including the site and stage of your disease and the location of metastases. Cancer-related pain can result from both the disease process and treatment.

Pain affects each person differently, depending upon factors such as age, personality, perception, pain threshold and past experiences with pain. Psychological factors such as fear, worries or knowledge of impending death can also influence the effect of pain. Insomnia, fatigue and anxiety may lower the pain threshold, while rest, sleep and diversion can raise it.

An accurate assessment of your pain experience provides a basis for an evaluation of various pain management techniques. A comprehensive assessment includes information about the following dimensions of your pain: location, intensity, factors influencing its occurrence (e.g., what makes it better or worse), observed behaviors during pain, psychosocial variables (i.e., attitudes, situational factors), effects of pain and effects of therapy and patterns of coping.

The goal of cancer pain management is not only relief from pain, but also the maintenance of your normal quality of life. All methods of cancer pain management attempt to either control the cause of the pain or alter your perception of it.

Although cancer pain management techniques are many and varied, therapeutic approaches can be classified as either pharmacological or non-pharmacological. Pharmacological pain control involves the use of analgesics, as well as other medications that intensify the analgesics' effects or modify your mood or pain perception. Non-pharmacological approaches include: behavioral techniques, radiation, surgery, neurological and neurosurgical interventions, and traditional nursing and psychosocial interventions.

The latter measures attempt to promote your comfort and evaluate the effectiveness of the therapy. Because of the complex nature of cancer-related pain, successful management usually involves a combination of techniques.

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