Cancer is hard as it is, but cancer pain is an added difficulty cancer patients have to suffer from. Most types of cancer pain are caused by the tumor pressing on bones, nerves or other organs in the body. In some cases, it is actually due to the cancer treatment. Paresthesia (altered sensations) and hyperalgesia (exaggerated pain) are quite common complications of many cancer treatments, including chemo- and radiation therapy.
Cancer pain can be acute or chronic. Acute pain is typically due to damage caused by an injury and usually lasts a short time. These are generally treated with regular painkillers, such as NSAIDs, but stronger medications may be required for short durations, such as in post-surgical states. Chronic pain associated with cancer may be due to cancer pressing on nerves or due to chemicals produced by a tumor affecting the nerves. Many types of cancer treatments also cause neuropathies. Chronic pain continues long after the injury or treatment is completed and can be anywhere from mild to severe. It can be persistent and cause severe disability. In other cases, the pain can be incidental or transient, triggered by a movement or event, and is short-lived.
Each type of pain needs to be identified correctly in order to reveal the root cause and to treat it accordingly to maximum relief.
Different types of pain include:
Neuropathic pain: It is caused by pressure on nerves or the spinal cord, or by damage to the nerves caused by cancer itself or by cancer treatment. It is typically a burning or shooting kind of pain. There may also be a tingling sensation. It can be a particularly difficult type of pain to treat. Nerves severed during cancer surgery can elicit severe chronic pain as well.
Bone pain: Cancer that spreads into the bone or originates in the bone can severely damage bone tissue and cause pain. This type of pain is described as aching, dull or throbbing. Furthermore, it can cause pathologic fractures, which can be excruciatingly painful.
Soft tissue pain: This type of pain occurs from body organs or muscles. It occurs typically because of direct involvement of cancer, but there are systemic effects of cancer that can cause toxic effects in organs to elicit pain as well. This type of pain is poorly localized and it usually either sharp, cramping, aching or throbbing.
Phantom pain: This type of pain occurs when you feel pain in a part of the body that has been removed. This is commonly seen in patients who have had an arm or leg amputation and they feel pain in the absent limb. It is a real condition and the pain is often excruciating. It can be because the brain is still perceiving it as a part of your body or it could be because the severed nerve endings are hypersensitive.
It is very important to identify the type and cause of the pain so that it can be managed properly. Poorly controlled pain can lead to severe disability, depression, and substance abuse, and has a very deleterious effect on the quality of life.