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Cancer Pain Management - Overview

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More About Cancer Pain Management?

Nearly half (44.5%) of cancer patients experience pain. The pain generally presents as a symptom of the cancer, a side effect of cancer treatment, or a cancer-related complication and can be mild, moderate, or severe. Cancer pain is very individualised; even two patients with the same type and stage of cancer may have very different experiences with pain.

The good news is that cancer-related pain is treatable. Since cancer pain is unique to every patient, cancer pain management must be tailored to each patient’s needs. That’s what we do at our London clinic.

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Are you struggling with any form of cancer-related pain? Book an appointment in our London clinic for personalised cancer pain management. Our team of experienced pain experts, osteopathic doctors, and oncologists will develop an effective treatment plan for cancer pain relief.

Types of Cancer Pain

Cancer pain can be caused by several different factors. The pain may come from any of these sources:

Tumours

A tumour is a solid mass of rapidly multiplying cancerous cells. The tumour itself may not be painful, but it can cause pain as it grows and pushes against the surrounding nerves, organs, or bones. Sometimes, the tumour blocks critical passageways, such as blood vessels or sections of the gut, leading to pain and other complications.


The severity and location of the pain will depend on the tumour’s size and the affected organs/tissues. Tumours in the pancreas, head, uterus, and the genitourinary system have a relatively high prevalence of pain.

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Cancer Diagnosis

Some test procedures for diagnosing cancer can cause lingering pain. In order to diagnose or check the progress of some types of cancers, the doctor may take tissue samples from the affected organ. This is called a biopsy. Bone marrow, needle, excisional, and endoscopic biopsies are known to be particularly painful, even long after the procedure.

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Chemotherapy

Some anti-cancer drugs cause peripheral neuropathy (damage to nerves). A majority of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy experience some form of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). If CIPN affects sensory nerves, symptoms may include:


  • Tingling sensation (pins and needles) and numbness

  • Pain that often feels like burning

  • Increased sensitivity to pressure or touch

  • Twitching, muscle cramps, and muscle spasms


Also, other chemotherapy side effects — such as mouth sores, damage to internal organs, and secondary infections — can lead to chronic pain.

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Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy can sometimes stiffen joints and muscles, making certain movements difficult and painful. Prolonged or extensive radiotherapy can also result in painful nerve and tissue damage.

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Surgery

Surgery is one of the most effective ways to treat some types of cancer, particularly those that develop tumours. The surgeon simply cuts off the offending tumour. However, surgery is a highly invasive process that leaves wounds, scars, and even deformities accompanied by pain. This kind of pain is known as post-operative pain.


In some rare cases, cancer patients experience phantom pain after surgery. This is a persistent pain with no apparent cause. Phantom pain might even come from a body part that’s no longer there.

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Cancer Pain Treatment Options

Cancer pain management begins with understanding the source of pain. The doctor will then design a treatment plan to address that particular pain. Relief from cancer pain can be achieved through the following treatments:

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Removal or Reduction of Tumours

If a tumour is found to be the source of pain, the best course of action may be to shrink it or, if possible, remove it altogether. This can be done through surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or radiotherapy. The ideal treatment will depend on the nature, location, and size of the tumour.

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Pain Management Drugs

There are several different types of drugs used for cancer pain relief. Such drugs include:


  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These are used to relieve mild cancer pain related to infection or inflammation.

  • Opioids. This is a group of drugs derived from or mimicking substances found in the opium poppy plant. Drugs such as morphine, fentanyl, and buprenorphine work well to relieve moderate and severe pain. However, opioids can be addictive, and some patients develop a tolerance after extended use.

  • Adjuvant Analgesics. These include anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and steroids. They are a safer alternative to opioids.

  • Anaesthesia. Nerve blocks, epidural, and intrathecal pumps work to manage cancer pain by interrupting or blocking pain signalling.

  • Muscle relaxers. These are typically prescribed for short-term relief from muscular pain. Muscle relaxers regulate muscle contractions, reducing muscle stiffness and spasms and the associated pain.


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Palliative Surgery

Surgery may be done on cancer patients strictly for palliative care and especially to manage pain. Palliative surgery can relieve pain caused by cancer-related complications such as bowel obstruction, deformity, squashed nerves, or compressed organs.

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Neurosurgical Procedures

When a patient is in severe debilitating pain, the doctor may recommend a surgical intervention such as a cordotomy. During a cordotomy, the surgeon disables or destroys specific pain-conducting tracts in the spinal cord. The procedure aims to permanently disrupt pain signalling from specific parts of the body.


Other neurosurgical procedures for cancer pain relief include:


  • Cingulotomy

  • Mesencephalotomy

  • Myelotomy

  • Sympathectomy


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Integrative Therapies

Integrative or holistic therapy refers to a spectrum of non-invasive and non-drug alternative treatments. They aim to treat the patient as a whole (physically, mentally, and emotionally), not just for pain relief but for general well-being.


Common integrative therapies include:


  • Acupuncture

  • Massage or touch therapy

  • Breathing and relaxation

  • Dietary supplementation

  • Nerve stimulation

  • Spinal manipulations

  • Meditation

  • Yoga

  • Tai chi

  • Hypnosis

  • Meditation

  • Psychotherapy (support groups, psychodynamic therapy, behaviour therapy)


While there’s little scientific backing behind integrative therapies, studies have shown that some integrative therapies do indeed help relieve chronic pain. They are also used alongside conventional pain treatments as complementary therapies.

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Manage Cancer Pain at Our London Clinic

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Are you struggling with any form of chronic pain, cancer-related or otherwise? Professional help is at hand. Book an appointment at our London clinic for a thorough pain assessment. From there, our team of pain specialists will devise a personalised treatment plan tailored to your needs.

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