This patient summary on pain is adapted from the summary written for health professionals by cancer experts. This and other credible information about cancer treatment, screening, prevention, supportive care, and ongoing clinical trials is available from the National Cancer Institute. Pain associated with cancer can be controlled in most patients but is frequently undertreated. This brief summary describes the management of cancer pain with the use of medication, physical methods, and psychological intervention.
This summary is about pain in adults with cancer.
Cancer pain can be managed effectively in most patients with cancer or with a history of cancer. Although cancer pain cannot always be relieved completely, therapy can lessen pain in most patients. Pain management improves the patient's quality of life throughout all stages of the disease.
Flexibility is important in managing cancer pain. As patients vary in diagnosis, stage of disease, responses to pain and treatments, and personal likes and dislikes, management of cancer pain must be individualized. Patients, their families, and their health care providers must work together closely to manage a patient's pain effectively.
To treat pain, it must be measured. The patient and the doctor should measure pain levels at regular intervals after starting cancer treatment. Checks should be done at each clinic visit, at each new report of pain, and after starting any type of treatment for pain. The cause of the pain must be identified and treated promptly.
To help the health care provider determine the type and extent of the pain, cancer patients can describe the location and intensity of their pain, any aggravating or relieving factors, and their goals for pain control. The family/caregiver may be asked to report for a patient who has a communication problem involving speech, language, or a thinking impairment. The health care provider should help the patient describe the following:
The assessment will include an exam of the body to check general signs of health or anything that seems unusual, and to look for signs that the cancer has grown or spread. A history of the patient's health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken. A neurological exam will be done. This is a series of questions and tests to check the brain, spinal cord, and nerve function. The exam checks the patient's mental status, ability to move and walk normally, and how well the muscles, senses, and reflexes work. The patient's psychological and spiritual well-being are evaluated. A personal and family history of substance abuse is taken. All of this information is taken as a whole to diagnose and treat the pain effectively.
Assessment of the Outcomes of Pain Management
The results of pain management should be measured by monitoring for a decrease in the severity of pain and improvement in thinking ability, emotional well-being, and social functioning. The results of taking pain medication should also be monitored. Drug addiction is rare in cancer patients. Developing a higher tolerance for a drug and becoming physically dependent on the drug for pain relief does not mean that the patient is addicted. Patients should take pain medication as prescribed by the doctor. Patients who have a history of drug abuse may tolerate higher doses of medication to control pain.
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