Cancer is a condition that affects many people and can be especially devastating when pain accompanies a patient’s condition. An estimated twenty percent of patients newly diagnosed with malignancies experience related pain. Roughly thirty percent of patients undergoing treatment complain of pain and for those with advanced cancer, the number is close to ninety percent that complain of pain.
There are several different sources of cancer pain. It can be experienced when the nerves are compressed by a growing tumor or when a tumor grows inside of a hollow organ, and can also originate from bone destructive lytic lesion. When cancer grows in bone marrow, it often causes severe pain. A great deal of pain is also associated with chemotherapy and radiation.
Because cancer can affect any number of organs with differing severity, each patient will be treated to best suit their specific needs. There are several different ways that cancer pain can be treated. Here are some examples of how a physician might treat a patient with cancer pain:
Pharmacotherapy: NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, opioids, and membrane-stabilizing medications can be very effective in treating cancer pain, however, relief without medication is a preferred goal.
Biofeedback: This is a technique that teaches a patient to become aware of processes that are usually considered to be involuntary (blood pressure, heart rate, etc.), and helps teach them to control those processes, thus reducing pain. When one has better awareness of their body, it is easier to effectively relax.
Nerve blocks: When a doctor performs a nerve block on a patient, he or she is blocking the pain signals that would travel up the spine, causing the patient to perceive pain. Different nerves are blocked based on where the pain is originating. An example is the Celiac Plexus Block which can provide great relief to those suffering from pancreatic cancer pain.
Intrathecal pumps: Surgically inserted near the base of the spine, an intrathecal pump can continuously deliver medication to a patient or be programmed to deliver medication at different times throughout the day. This option reduces or eliminates the need for oral medication, decreasing potential drug related side-effects.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS): This option uses electrical stimulation on the skin of the affected area.The electrical impulses interfere with the pain signals and alter the patient’s perception of pain.
Radiation therapy and surgery: Can also be effective in reducing cancer related pain. These processes generally alleviate pain by shrinking the growing tumor, which in turn prevents it from interfering with the normal tissue