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Cancer Pain Syndromes
by Krisha McCoy, MS
About one-third of people with cancer have pain. There are different types of cancer pain affected by:
Based on the cause of pain, researchers have defined different cancer pain syndromes, including:
Risk Factors TOP
Having cancer is the main risk factor for cancer pain.
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:
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:
Weak or strong opioids are often used to treat moderate-to-severe cancer pain.
Other Medications TOP
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 TOP
Radiation therapy can be used to relieve bone pain. It can also help relieve pain caused by tumors compressing other structures.
Cancer pain usually cannot be prevented, but it can be managed.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Canadian Cancer Society
Provincial Health Services Authority
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