Chemotherapy And Pain

Helping your loved one manage pain is one of the most important ways that you can care for him or her during chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy drugs can cause some side effects that are painful. The drugs can damage nerves, leading to burning, numbness, tingling or shooting pain, most often in the fingers or toes. Some drugs can also cause mouth sores, headaches, muscle pains, and stomach pains.

Not everyone with cancer or who receives chemotherapy experiences pain from the disease or its treatment. But if you do, it can be relieved. The first step to take is to talk with your doctor, nurse, and pharmacist about your pain. They need to know as many details about your pain as possible. You may want to describe your pain to your family and friends. They can help you talk to your caregivers about your pain, especially if you are too tired or in too much pain to talk to them yourself.

You need to tell your doctor, nurse, and pharmacist and family or friends:

  • Where you feel pain.
  • What it feels like—sharp, dull, throbbing, steady.
  • How strong the pain feels.
  • How long it lasts.
  • What eases the pain, what makes the pain worse.
  • What medicines you are taking for the pain and how much relief you get from them.

Using a pain scale is helpful in describing how much pain you are feeling. Try to assign a number from 0 to 10 to your pain level. If you have no pain, use a 0. As the numbers get higher, they stand for pain that is getting worse. A 10 means the pain is as bad as it can be. You may wish to use your own pain scale using numbers from 0 to 5 or even 0 to 100. Be sure to let others know what pain scale you are using and use the same scale each time, for example, “My pain is 7 on a scale of 0 to 10.”

The goal of pain control is to prevent pain that can be prevented, and treat the pain that can’t. To do this:

  • If you have persistent or chronic pain, take your pain medicine on a regular schedule (by the clock).
  • Do not skip doses of your scheduled pain medicine. If you wait to take pain medicine until you feel pain, it is harder to control.
  • Try using relaxation exercises at the same time you take medicine for the pain. This may help to lessen tension, reduce anxiety, and manage pain.
  • Some people with chronic or persistent pain that is usually controlled by medicine can have breakthrough pain. This occurs when moderate to severe pain “breaks through” or is felt for a short time. If you experience this pain, use a short-acting medicine ordered by your doctor. Don’t wait for the pain to get worse. If you do, it may be harder to control.

There are many different medicines and methods available to control cancer pain. You should expect your doctor to seek all the information and resources necessary to make you as comfortable as possible. If you are in pain and your doctor has no further suggestions, ask to see a pain specialist or have your doctor consult with a pain specialist. A pain specialist may be an oncologist, anesthesiologist, neurologist, neurosurgeon, other doctor, nurse, or pharmacist.

© Copyright FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Reprinted from Chemotherapy and You: A Guide to Self-Help During Cancer Treatment, NIH Publication #99-1136, developedby the United States National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute, June 1999.



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