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Cancer Pain Syndromes
About one-third of people with cancer have pain. There are different types of cancer pain affected by:
- Progression of the disease
- Location in the body
- Overall physical condition
Based on the cause of pain, researchers have defined different cancer pain syndromes, including:
- Pain from the tumor—tumors can press on bone, nerves, or an organ, resulting in pain.
- Pain related to cancer therapy—this may include pain from:
Pain unrelated to the cancer or treatment—This refers to pain in people with cancer that has nothing to do with the illness or its treatment. It may include:
- Muscle strains
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Any type of pain experienced by someone with cancer can be considered cancer pain. The pain may be near or far from the location of the tumor. The intensity can vary. It may be chronic or off and on. The pain can be described as pressure, sharp, dull, throbbing, burning, stabbing, and achy.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Special tests may also be done to determine possible causes of the pain.
Imaging tests evaluate bodily structures to find the source of pain, such as bone fractures and lesions. These may include:
Your doctor may need to evaluate you for nerve disorders. This can be done with:
- Electromyography (EMG)
- Nerve conduction velocity (NCV)
Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Your plan will depend on the type of pain you are having. It will also depend on how your cancer has been treated. Medications to treat cancer pain include:
To treat mild-to-moderate cancer pain:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Weak or strong opioids are often used to treat moderate-to-severe cancer pain.
Antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and steroids may be effective in relieving certain types of cancer pain. These types of medication may be of benefit if the pain is thought to be related to the central nervous system. This type of pain may be called either neuropathic or central.
Radiation therapy can be used to relieve bone pain. It can also help relieve pain caused by tumors compressing other structures.
Acupuncture may be helpful in reducing cancer-related pain. Talk to your doctor to see if this is a good option for you.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Canadian Cancer Society
Cancer pain. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113832/Cancer-pain. Updated April 24, 2016. Accessed September 28, 2016.
Pain control: support for people with cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/paincontrol/page1. Accessed January 23, 2013.
VT Chang, Janjan N, et al. Update in cancer pain syndromes. J Palliat Med. 2006;9(6):1414-1434.
2/11/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113832/Cancer-pain: Paley C, Johnson M, et al. Acupuncture for cancer pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011;(1):CD007753.
- Reviewer: Mohei Abouzied, MD
- Review Date: 12/2015
- Update Date: 12/20/2014