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Managing lung cancer pain

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on September 30th, 2019

Pain associated with lung cancer can affect the quality of life, routine activities, eating habits, the ability to get a good night's sleep, and the way you interact with others. If you are experiencing pain due to lung cancer or its treatment, you need to be aware of the fact that pain is a symptom that can be managed and controlled.

Different types of pain associated with lung cancer

Patients with lung cancer experience pain that may arise from different sources. The tumor mass itself can cause pain if it presses down or grows into healthy tissues, and sometimes, cancer treatment may also lead to pain, for instance, there may be pain after surgery or chemotherapy may lead to pain caused by mouth ulcers. Often, patients with lung cancer may experience more than one type of pain at the same time.

Patients with lung cancer may experience different types of pain, which include:

  • Chronic pain: Pain that is constant in nature and may persist for more than 3 months.
  • Intermittent pain: This type of pain occurs every now and then rather than continuously and is associated with a particular activity.
  • Breakthrough pain: This type of pain occurs as intense 'flare-ups' that develop when on regular pain medications.

Discussing pain with your doctor

It certainly requires different approaches to control these different types of pain, and for this reason, it is important for your health care team to understand the root cause of your lung cancer-related pain. You need to discuss the following regarding your lung cancer-related pain with your doctor:

  • When and where does your pain start: It is likely that you are experiencing pain in more than one place in your body and there could be some triggering factor that led to the pain. Talking about this information helps the doctor to understand the cause of pain.
  • How does the pain feel: The pain may be sharp, dull, burning, stabbing or pinching in nature.
  • Pain intensity: There are various pain scales that help rate your pain. The simplest scale rates pain from 0 to 10, where 0 means no pain and 10 suggests the worst possible pain. A verbal scale involves the use of mild, moderate, and severe as keywords to describe the levels of pain.
  • Aggravating and relieving factors: The factors that make your pain worse such as sitting, standing and at the same time, the factors that make your pain better such as application of heat or ice. This helps to understand your pain level better.

In addition, it is also important to let your health care team know how much relief you are deriving from the pain medications or other methods of pain control, the episodes of breakthrough pain, and the way pain affects your daily life, for instance, is it disturbing your night sleep or your ability to eat.

Exploring pain management options

There have been several advances in the field of pain management, which help patients take control of their constant pain. Effective pain management can improve a patient's quality of life. There are various pain relief options including prescription and over-the-counter medications. It is important to discuss with your healthcare team before you take any over-the-counter medications and check whether it is safe and has no interference with your other treatments. Here are a few pain management options:

  • Non-opioid medications: These medication include but are not limited to Acetaminophen, Aspirin and Aspirin-like pain relievers.
  • Opioids: These are the strongest pain-relieving medications and include Morphine, Oxycodone, and Fentanyl.
  • Antidepressant medications: These medications are also effective against pain in some conditions.
  • Cannabinoids: CBD products are made up of the active ingredient found in marijuana. Its for chronic pain has been legalized in various states.
  • Other treatment methods: Physical therapy, massage therapy, and acupuncture are other methods that can help to manage pain. Radiation therapy may be used to relieve bone pain caused by a tumor mass.