One of the most common symptoms reported among people being treated for cancer and long-term survivors is pain. And rightfully so, given that nearly half of all cancer patients experience pain before, during, and after treatment. It may be short-lived, long-lasting, mild, severe, or even affect the organs and bones of the patient in question. While doctors have long-since acknowledged the severity of cancer pain, it was not viewed as fundamentally different from other types of pain in terms of how it impacts the patient until just a few years ago.
If you or a loved one is experiencing cancer pain as a result of the disease itself, its treatments, or a combination of the two, it’s important to reach out to one of the pain management doctors near me as soon as possible for a customized treatment plan. Pain is different for each individual, and you’ll always want to prioritize finding a treatment plan that’s entirely tailored to your specific needs. In this brief article, we’ll be going over the different ways cancer may cause pain as well as the treatment options available to lessen the severity of your pain. For more information, please get in touch with Neil Patel, M.D. — a highly-qualified and dedicated pain management physician.
Causes of Cancer Pain
As previously stated, cancer pain can take many forms. It may be dull, sharp, achy, or burning, depending on the type of pain, and it may also vary in severity. How much pain you feel, when compared to another individual with cancer, will depend on a number of factors, including the type of cancer you have, how advanced it is, where the cancer is situated, your pain tolerance, and medical history. Below, a physician that specializes in pain management near me will review just a few of the most common causes of cancer pain that you may be affected by.
Radiation Therapy, Chemotherapy, and Other Cancer Treatments
The most utilized cancer treatments are radiation therapy (RT) and chemotherapy (CT), each of which comes with its own unique and painful side effects that may occur. Take chemotherapy, for example. This method of treatment works by attacking cancer cells throughout the body to prevent cell division, target the enzymes and hormones the cells need to grow, and trigger apoptosis, or the suicide of these cells. Unfortunately, side effects occur when the chemotherapy damages healthy cells in the process of attacking the cancer cells. Common side effects of chemotherapy include headaches, stomach pain, muscle pain, and pain from nerve damage. While most types of pain related to chemotherapy will improve or go away between treatments, nerve damage will continue to get worse with each dose.
Radiation therapy, on the other hand, works by making small breaks within the DNA inside the cancer cells. These breaks keep these cells from growing and dividing and cause them to die as a result. However, radiation performed on different areas of the body can sometimes result in painful nerve damage. Radiation for breast cancer, for example, can result in peripheral neuropathy — leading to weakness, numbness, tingling, and pain in the shoulder, arm, and hand.
Other than chemotherapy and radiation therapy, steroid medications commonly used in cancer treatment to destroy cancer cells and improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy can lead to osteoporosis and bone pain.
Substances Secreted by the Tumor
Some cancers actually secrete proteins that can cause pain. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be discussing something known as paraneoplastic syndromes — a group of rare disorders triggered by an unusual immune response to a cancerous tumor known as a neoplasm. These disorders are thought to develop when cancer-fighting antibodies or white blood cells mistakenly attack normal cells in the nervous system as a result of a malignant tumor releasing a hormone or protein. While paraneoplastic syndromes develop in approximately 20 percent of people who have cancer, they occur most often in middle-aged to older people with lung, breast, lymphatic, or ovarian cancer.
Symptoms of paraneoplastic syndromes vary depending on the organ systems affected; however, they typically develop over a period of days to weeks. You’ll likely discover these symptoms even before the tumor itself has been discovered. These symptoms may include loss of muscle tone, slurred speech, seizures, vertigo, difficulty swallowing, and high blood pressure. If you or a loved one has experienced any of these symptoms as a result of a paraneoplastic syndrome, don’t wait until it’s too late to reach out to a pain management specialist near me like Dr. Patel.
Last but not least, you may experience cancer pain as a result of bone metastasis — a process that occurs when cancer cells migrate from the primary tumor to the bone. This is by far one of the most common types of pain in patients with advanced cancer, but it is especially common in patients with breast, lung, prostate, kidney, or colorectal cancer. In a patient with prostate cancer, for example, cancer cells from the tumor on the prostate can break away, get into the bloodstream, and travel to the bone to form a secondary tumor.
In any circumstance where these cancer cells metastasize to the bone, portions of the bone will become damaged and form small holes or lytic lesions that increase the risk of breakage, severe pain, and other problems. Other symptoms which may occur as a result of bone metastasis include urinary incontinence, bowel incontinence, high levels of calcium in the blood, and weakness in the arms and legs.