What is cancer pain?
There are many types of cancer pain. Cancer pain can be achy, burning, dull, or sharp. Also, it can be intermittent or constant, moderate or severe. The severity of cancer pain depends on such factors as the type of cancer, how advanced your cancer is, your pain tolerance, the location of cancer, etc.
Not all cancer patients experience pain. However, if your cancer is recurred or spread, you are at higher risk of cancer pain.
Cancer pain causes
The cause of the cancer pain is cancer itself. Cancer could cause pain if it spreads or destroys nearby tissue. The tumor may press on nerves, bones, or organs as it grows. Also, the tumor may release specific chemicals that can result in pain. Although cancer treatment may relieve the pain caused by cancer, cancer treatment by surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation may cause pain.
Pain receptors are found throughout the body in the mucous membranes and the skin. Cancer pain can be triggered by several different conditions that can include:
- Poor circulation due to blocked blood vessels
- Bone fractures due to cancer that has spread to the bone (metastasis)
- Emotional or psychological problems
- Side effects from radiation or chemotherapy
- Pressure on nerves due to tumor growth
Cancer pain symptoms
At first, pain from cancer may cause symptoms like an increased pulse and rapid breathing, grimacing, and sweating. However, in cases of chronic pain, which lasts more than three months, people often no longer display these signs, so it becomes critically important for cancer patients to tell their physicians when they have pain that is not being controlled.
Cancer pain can sometimes be relieved by surgery to remove a tumor, but this is not always possible. When a cancerous tumor cannot be surgically removed, pain can be treated in other ways.
How does the pain happen?
Pain travels through the nervous system when the nerve endings sense damage is occurring somewhere in the body. The nerve endings send a warning signal through a defined pathway to the brain. In the brain, these warning signals are interpreted as pain. Pain can also occur if the nerve pathways used to transmit signals are injured. All pain is transmitted and interpreted in the brain the same way, including pain caused by cancer.
What is acute pain?
Acute pain typically lasts less than three months. It typically has a sudden onset, and it is often caused by an accident or illness that occurs rapidly, such as strep throat or a pulled muscle. It results in bodily reactions like a rapid pulse, increased breathing rate, sweating, increased blood pressure, restlessness, and more. Acute pain goes away when the underlying cause is treated.
What is chronic pain?
Pain is considered chronic or persistent when it continues longer than is normally expected for a condition to resolve. It can cause extreme stress, both physically and emotionally, and it needs to be treated in appropriate ways.
Cancer pain is often chronic, but it can almost always be successfully managed. People with cancer sometimes also have episodes of “breakthrough” pain, which is acute pain. This can also be controlled.
To ensure your pain is under control, communicate with the members of your healthcare team. If you have cancer and are experiencing pain, notify your doctor.