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Cancer-Related Pain

The below information is purely for educational purposes and does not constitute medical advice. This content should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.

Many cancer patients experience pain either as a result of treatment or cancer itself. Most cancers can cause cancer-related pain which can vary from mild to severe, frequent to infrequent, and can affect almost any part of the body. Cancer pain can also be caused by cancer treatments including chemotherapy and radiotherapy which can cause painful side effects often lasting days, weeks or even months.

Read on to find out about the treatment of cancer pain.

Cancer-Related Pain Definition

A woman sat down with her hand resting in one of her hands. She is dressed in all white.Cancer pain is a type of pain caused by cancer itself or as a result of cancer treatment. This is due to actual or potential damage to bodily tissues.

What Causes Cancer-Related Pain?

Cancer pain can be caused by the cancer itself as well as cancer treatments. Cancer pain caused by the cancer tumour is often due to the tumour applying pressure to organs, nerves and bones or the tumour releasing chemicals into the body. Cancer pain can also be a side effect of radiotherapy, a method of treatment which kills cancer cells through radiation, sometimes resulting in painful side-effects including soreness of the skin and stiff joints. Chemotherapy, a cancer treatment which uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancers cells, can also cause pain.

Cancer Treatment Side Effects

Chemotherapy side effects

Side effects from chemotherapy treatment are common as the body reacts to the cytotoxic drugs. Some of the more well-known side effects include hair loss, vomiting, appetite loss, nausea, mouth sores and fatigue. Chemotherapy also reduces the body’s ability to fight infection making patients undergoing treatment more susceptive to picking up infections. Side effects can become noticeable as quickly as one hour after receiving the treatment or can take effect days later. Many side effects are short-term such as hair loss and vomiting but some side effects such as fatigue can last months, or years.

Radiotherapy side effects

Radiotherapy may cause several side effects as the body reacts to the high-energy rays used to shrink tumours and kill cancer cells. Common side effects include fatigue, damage to the skin, and mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Side effects often kick in two or three weeks into treatment, often settling a few weeks after the treatment has finished although some side effects are more permanent.

Common types of cancer pain

The type of pain you experience is dependent on several factors including how advanced the cancer is, where the cancer is located and what type of cancer you have.

  • Nerve Pain

Nerve pain is common amongst cancer patients often as a result of chemotherapy causing peripheral neuropathy. Also known as neuropathic pain, nerve pain can also be caused by cancerous tumour pressing on nerves and causing damage. Nerve pain can feel like a burning or tingling sensation and can be mild or severe depending on where the cancer is and what the stage it is at.

  • Bone Pain

Bone pain is common for primary bone cancer patients as well as patients whose cancer spreads from its original site to the bone. Most cancers can spread into the bone (bone metastases), occurring when cancerous cells detach from the tumour and are carried through the circulation to bone. Bone pain is often described as a tender or aching feeling and can feel similar to muscle pain, but more severe. Whilst it is hard to cure bone pain, there are treatment options available to help people cope.

  • Soft-Tissue Pain

Many cancer patients are affected by soft tissue pain (visceral pain) meaning pain felt from the body’s internal organs or muscles. The area of the body affected is dependent upon which organ or muscle is causing the pain. Visceral pain occurs when pain receptors are activated and if often described as a deep aching or pressure.

Cancer-Related Pain Treatment

Woman holding a pipette

A holistic approach is often needed to treat cancer pain. Physiotherapy, modifications to work and home environment and psychological therapies are important aspects of patient care in addition to medications.
Medical therapy is dependent on the underlying cause of pain, as addressing the underlying cause is an important component of treatment.
Simple painkillers are often first line treatment with stronger painkillers (e.g. codeine, tramadol and morphine) used in conjunction for severe pain. Some patients benefit from other bespoke treatments depending on the cause of their pain.

Cancer-Related Pain and Medicinal Cannabis

Research into the effect of medicinal cannabis on pain associated with cancer is limited. However, following the legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes in 2018, there has been a rise in people looking towards medical cannabis. When first-line therapies have not proved effective at reducing symptoms, medical cannabis may be considered an option for cancer related pain.

For further information and to find out more about medical cannabis, click here to discover more about our multi-award-winning Curaleaf Access Scheme. Alternatively, complete an eligibility assessment now. Once complete, one of our clinicians will review your application and advise whether you are eligible for progression to an appointment.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Cancer-Related Pain

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Breast cancer does not commonly cause pain in the breast or nipple. The most common breast cancer symptom is a painless lump or mass in the breast or under the armpit. A small percentage of people experience breast pain as the primary symptom of breast cancer but for the majority of people, breast pain will be caused by something other than cancer.

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Cancer lumps are usually painless although if the lump is applying pressure to nerves, people may experience nerve pain such as burning or tingling underneath the skin.

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Pain is a common symptom of stomach cancer. Stomach cancer pain is usually felt in the abdominal or abdomen and often feels like bloating, persistent indigestion, or general discomfort.

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Liver cancer may be painful with symptoms including nausea and vomiting as well as pain at the top of the abdomen or near the right shoulder. Liver cancer pain in the abdomen and shoulder is often caused by the enlarged liver applying pressure to the capsule surrounding the liver or other nearby organs.