Cancer will strike almost 38 percent of all Americans, so it is almost assured that you or someone you love will encounter this dreaded disease. Cancer is essentially an uncontrolled growth of mutated cells, so it can develop in almost anyone at virtually any point in life. There are many varieties of cancer, but moderate to severe pain is found in almost half of all cancer patients. Unfortunately, pain management is often a secondary consideration for cancer treatment specialists, but you can take steps to minimize these symptoms.
Cancer-related pain is not the same for all cancer patients. Some will experience acute or short-term pain symptoms, while others may endure chronic pain that can vary in intensity over time. In many cases, these symptoms are due to the illness which may produce tumors that press on nerves or hard tissue, but many cancer patients also experience pain due to treatments like antineoplastic chemotherapy or radiation.
Pain management of these symptoms should be performed by the cancer treatment team, but there are several reasons why undertreatment may occur. The most important reason is simply that many cancer specialists are not correctly taught how to manage pain in cancer patients. Many oncologists persist in using opioid medications improperly to mitigate pain in various stages of disease progression because they are relying on outdated treatment methodologies.
Depending upon the severity of the pain, there are various pain management strategies that may be applied. If the pain is relatively mild or intermittent, then your physician may recommend over-the-counter medications like aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen. In many cases, these kinds of pain relievers are quite effective for mild or moderate pain and does not carry the risk of opioid addiction.
For cancer patients that experience more intense or continuous pain, physicians may prescribe weak opioids like codeine, or stronger opioids like fentanyl, morphine or oxycodone. Some of these medications are quite potent and therefore may cause serious health complications like respiratory depression or, even death, so you should closely follow your doctor’s instructions when taking them.
Other kinds of medications may also be used to treat specific types of pain. Anti-inflammatory drugs like corticosteroids are recommended for swelling and related pain that is often a symptom of cancer. Anti-convulsants like gabapentin or carbamazepine are used to remediate nerve damage symptoms like burning or tingling sensations. Surprisingly, some cancer patients with pain symptoms respond positively to a course of antidepressants like amitriptyline and nortriptyline; these drugs are helpful in alleviating neuropathic pain, even if the patient is not suffering from depression.
If you have certain types of cancer that are accompanied by severe pain, you may be a candidate for a nerve block procedure. If you have pancreatic or abdominal cancer, your physician might suggest a celiac plexus nerve block which would stop the transition of the pain impulse to the brain. These procedures generally help minimize chronic pain for several months.
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.