How Is Cancer Pain Treated?
When treating cancer pain, the doctor will usually try to treat the cause of the pain first. Surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy may be used to shrink tumors.
There are several ways to relieve pain:
- With medicine, also called "pharmacological pain relief." You should ask your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse for advice before you take any medicine for pain. Medicines are safe when they are used properly. You can buy some effective pain relievers without a prescription. For others, a prescription from your doctor is necessary.
- Without medicine, sometimes called "noninvasive measures." These usually have very few side effects, and they can be combined with medicines. Methods may include skin stimulation and techniques such as distraction, relaxation, and imagery.
- Nerve blocks, or "neurological pain relief." Blocking the pain messages that are sent by nerves to the brain (with surgery or injection of ]]>local anesthetic]]> into the nerve) can sometimes be used when nothing else works to relieve pain.
- Radiation therapy is often used to relieve pain that is due to cancer that has spread to other sites in the body (metastasis).
There is no one best way to relieve pain, but something usually can be found to help every patient.
Are There Any General Guidelines for Relieving Pain?
It is important to try to prevent the pain before it starts or gets worse by using some pain-relief method on a regular schedule. If pain begins, don't wait for it to get worse before doing something about it.
Learn which methods of pain relief work best for you. Vary and combine pain relief methods. For instance, you might use a relaxation method at the same time you take medicine for the pain.
Know yourself and what you can do. Often when people are rested and alert, they can use a method that demands attention and energy. When tired, they may need to use a method that requires less effort. For example, try distraction when you are rested and alert; use hot or cold packs when you are tired.
Be open-minded and keep trying. You may find that some things that sound as if they could not possibly work, might be helpful. Be willing to try different methods. Keep a record of what makes you feel better and what doesn't help.
Try each method more than once. If it doesn't work the first time, try it a few more times before you give up. Keep in mind that what doesn't work one day may work the next. Also, you might need help in figuring out the best way to use a certain technique. But don't get discouraged if a certain method does not work for you. People are different, and not all the methods will work for everyone.
Most important, always ask yourself: Which is more bothersome-the pain or the method of making it go away? Does pain relief allow me to do what is important to me and those I care about?
What Should I Do if My Pain Is Not Relieved and My Doctor Says Nothing More Can Be Done for Me?
Cancer pain almost always can be substantially lessened or relieved. However, no one doctor can know everything about all medical problems. If you are in pain and your doctor has nothing more to offer, ask to see a pain specialist. Pain specialists may be ]]>oncologists, anesthesiologists, neurosurgeons]]> , other doctors, nurses, or pharmacists. A pain control team may also include psychologists and social workers.
If you have difficulty locating a pain program or specialist, contact a cancer center, a hospice, or the oncology department at your local hospital or a medical center. The following sources can provide names of pain specialists, pain clinics, or programs in your area:
The Cancer Information Service (CIS), supported by the National Cancer Institute, is a nationwide telephone service that answers questions from cancer patients and their families, health care professionals, and the public. At the CIS, health information specialists provide information and publications on all aspects of cancer, including pain control. They can give you information about clinical trials (research studies) that are open to patients and that test new and promising treatments for cancer and cancer pain. They also may know about cancer related services in local areas. By dialing 1 800 4-CANCER (1-800 422 6237), you will reach a CIS office serving your area. A trained staff member will answer your questions and listen to your concerns. Spanish speaking staff members are available.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) is a national nonprofit organization whose programs include research, education, patient services, and rehabilitation. Every state has a chartered Division of the ACS. In addition, there are more than 3,500 local ACS Units (offices) in the United States and Puerto Rico. Local ACS Units are another source of information about pain specialists in your area. The local Units are listed in your telephone directory. For more information, call the ACS at 1-800 ACS-2345.
Information about pain specialists is also available from:
American Academy of Pain Medicine
4700 West Lake Avenue
Glenview, IL 60025
American Pain Society
4700 West Lake Avenue
Glenview, IL 60025
American Society of
Pain Therapy Committee
Park Ridge, IL 60068
International Association for the Study of
909 N.E. 43rd Street, Suite 306
Seattle, WA 98105
National Chronic Pain Outreach
7979 Old Georgetown Road
Bethesda, MD 20814-2429
A listing of facilities with accredited pain programs is available from:
Commission on Accreditation of
4891 East Grant RoadTucson, AZ 85712(602) 325-1044
Adapted from National Cancer Institute, 2/00
Last reviewed February 2000 by ]]>EBSCO Publishing Editorial Staff]]>
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