Cancer Pain Syndromes

Definition

About one-third of people with cancer have pain. Cancer pain can be affected by:

  • Progression of the cancer
  • Location in the body
  • Overall physical condition

Causes    TOP

Cancer pain is often grouped by what is causing the pain such as:

  • Pain from the tumor—Tumors can press on bone, nerves, or an organ.
  • Pain related to cancer therapy including:
  • Pain unrelated to the cancer or treatment such as:
    • Headaches
    • Arthritis
    • Muscle strains

Chemotherapy Affects the Whole Body

Chemotherapy
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors    TOP

Having cancer is the main risk factor for cancer pain.

Symptoms    TOP

Cancer pain will vary from person to person. In general, any type of pain felt by someone with cancer is cancer pain. The pain may:

  • Be near or far from the tumor
  • Vary in intensity
  • Be regular and long lasting or come and go
  • Be described as pressure, sharp, dull, throbbing, burning, stabbing, or achy

Diagnosis    TOP

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Special tests may also be done to find possible causes of the pain.

Imaging tests may be needed to look for sources of pain. Bone fractures and lesions can be found this way. Imaging tests may include:

Your doctor may need to test your nerves. This can be done with:

Treatment    TOP

Your plan will depend on the type of pain you are having. It will also depend on how your cancer has been treated. The overall goal is to manage pain. Options include:

Medicine

  • Non-opioids—to treat mild-to-moderate cancer pain:
    • Acetaminophen
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Opioids—often used to treat moderate-to-severe cancer pain
  • Other medications that may help with pain related to the central nervous system (neuropathic or central pain) include:
    • Antidepressants
    • Anticonvulsants
    • Steroids

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy can help to shrink tumors. It may be used to relieve:

  • Bone pain
  • Pain caused by tumors pressing on other structures

Alternative Treatments    TOP

Acupuncture may be helpful in reducing cancer pain. Talk to your doctor to see if this is a good option for you.

Prevention    TOP

Cancer pain usually cannot be prevented.

RESOURCES:

American Cancer Society
https://www.cancer.org
National Cancer Institute
https://www.cancer.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Cancer Society
https://www.cancer.ca
Provincial Health Services Authority
http://www.bccancer.bc.ca

References:

Cancer pain. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/pain.html. Accessed January 8, 2018.
Cancer pain. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113832/Cancer-pain. Updated September 7, 2017. Accessed January 8, 2018.
General information about cancer pain. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/pain/pain-pdq. Updated August 31, 2017. Accessed January 8, 2018.
2/11/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113832/Cancer-pain: Paley C, Johnson M, Tashani OA, Bagnall AM. Acupuncture for cancer pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011;(1):CD007753.
Last reviewed December 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 12/20/2014

EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at healthlibrarysupport@ebsco.com. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.