Pain during cancer treatment: 6 strategies for coping

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iStock_000011519043Small.jpgBy Brian M. Bruel, M.D.

Some cancer patients believe that pain is simply a part of cancer treatment, but pain is usually very treatable.

About one-third of cancer patients experience pain as a cancer treatment side effect. The severity and duration of pain differs widely from one patient to the next, depending on disease type, course of treatment and many other factors.

The best way to treat pain is to find the combination of treatments appropriate for each person's condition. It may even be possible to treat your cancer-related pain without medications.

How to alleviate pain during cancer treatment
Below are several ways to alleviate cancer-related pain alongside the medical treatment your doctor may prescribe. As with any symptom or side effect, it's important to discuss your pain with your physician so he or she can identify the best treatments for you.

Breathing and relaxation. Performing simple exercises to control your breathing can help you focus on simple tasks, rather than concentrating on the pain.

Heat or cold. Just like after you've suffered a sprained ankle or a hurt elbow, using heating pads or ice packs on the site of the pain can help reduce achiness.

Massage, pressure and vibration.
If you're experiencing muscle spasms or contractions, physically stimulating the affected muscles may help you relax and relieve muscle soreness.
Hypnosis. Many patients report diminished pain after undergoing hypnosis or learning to hypnotize themselves. This very heightened state of awareness allows patients to become so focused that they can mentally block out or ignore things going on around them.  

Imagery. Focusing on positive, soothing images that bring you mental pleasure can help divert attention from the pain you're feeling, at least temporarily.

Biofeedback. Many of our body functions are automatic, such as blood pressure, temperature, respiration and heart rate. You can use specialized instruments to monitor these functions and learn to better control them to reduce pain and stress.

Remember, each patient's experience with pain is unique, so treatment options will vary, depending on the level and location of your pain, as well as your overall cancer treatment plan.

Living with a cancer diagnosis does not mean that life must revolve around pain. With all of the treatments available, your physician can help you take control of the pain so it doesn't control you.

Brian M. Bruel, M.D., is an assistant professor of Pain Management at MD Anderson in Katy.

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