You’d think with all of our advanced technology and medicines, cancer patients wouldn’t have to experience high-level pain anymore. But according to a recent survey commissioned by the American Pain Foundation, many still are-with some being told by their physicians that they just have to tough it out.
“I see patients who are seriously under-medicated and do have pain,” says Colleen O’Neil, RN, breast cancer survivor, and peer counselor to cancer patients. “It makes me very frustrated. There are many approaches to pain control and they should all be considered in an effort to ease the suffering of cancer patients. People shouldn’t have to be in pain just because they have a cancer diagnosis.”
According to the survey, nearly half of patients suffering “breakthrough” cancer pain (severe pain that strikes without warning) say treatment doesn’t offer adequate relief. Patients ranked their pain from 8-10 on a scale from one to ten, but still many said their doctors told them the pain was a normal part of cancer or its treatment.
“Providers and patients should not accept breakthrough cancer pain as a normal side effect of cancer,” said Russel K. Portenoy, MD, chair of pain medication at Beth Israel Medical Center.
CancerPain.org describes “breakthrough” pain as pain that occurs despite the pain medications the patient is already taken: “These severe flares of pain are called breakthrough pain because the pain ‘breaks through’ the regular pain medication.”
They go on to say that if your doctor hasn’t offered you additional meds for this type of pain, something is wrong: “Almost all people experiencing chronic cancer pain should receive medications for around-the-clock pain control and a medication specifically for treatment of breakthrough pain. If this has not been offered to you, discuss this with your health care provider.”
Pain is something that some cancer patients feel they “have” to live with, but according to O’Neil, this thinking can actually delay healing. “Pain doesn’t contribute anything to the getting-well process,” she says. “It makes you feel vulnerable and frightened, not just because you’re hurting in the moment, but you fear it will continue or perhaps get worse. If your pain is well controlled, you feel more optimistic about your health and feel more resilient about your ability to recover.”
If you’re experiencing pain from cancer or cancer treatments, please don’t feel you have to suffer through it. There are a myriad of pain medications available, and getting yourself some relief will only help you to recover more quickly. To make sure you get exactly what you need, CancerPain.org recommends you communicate the following to your doctor or nurse:
- Tell them where it hurts, when it hurts, and how intense the pain is.
- Tell them what makes the pain worse and what makes it better.
- Tell them how fast it comes on, how long it lasts, and how often it comes back.
- If you’re taking medications, discuss how much relief they are giving (or not giving) you.
- Discuss how the pain is affecting your daily life-what activities can’t you perform because of the pain? Talk about your appetite, your sleeping habits, and whether you can perform your normal daily routine.
Then, ask about what other options are available to you-what other medications and alternative therapies may help. If your doctor tells you the pain is “normal” and fails to help you with it, make an appointment to see a pain specialist in your area.
Finally, don’t worry about medication addiction. Studies so far do not support the myth that cancer patients become addicted to pain medication. Take what you need to feel better!
Have you struggled with pain related to cancer? Please tell us anything helpful you may have learned.
Photo courtesy idhren via Flickr.com.