How Cancer Pain Affects the Body

How Cancer Pain Affects the Body

How Cancer Pain Affects the Body

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that there’ll be nearly two million new cancer diagnoses in the US in 2022. That’s about 5,250 new cases every day. In North Carolina, the ACS projected about 65,320 new cases. 

These are devastating facts, considering that people living with cancer experience pain caused by the disease. The treatment methods, such as surgeries and chemo, can also cause pain in various body parts that can easily lead to chronic pain. 

Cancer pain is manageable, and controlling it is a crucial part of your treatment. Understanding the cause of cancer pain and the non-invasive interventional therapies you can use to manage it is critical.

Understanding Cancer Pain

Not every person with cancer experiences pain, but some do. If your cancer has spread or recurred, experiencing pain is high. 

Cancer patients feel pain to different degrees. It can be mild, achy, sharp, or burning. The pain can also occur constantly, intermittently, moderately, or severely. The extent of pain one feels depends on several factors, including:

  • The type of cancer
  • How advanced the cancer is
  • The affected part of the body
  • Your pain tolerance


A patient can feel pain due to cancer itself. As the tumor spreads to other tissues, it destroys the nearby cells, causing pain. Most cancer pain is due to the tumor pressing on nerves, bones, and organs. The abnormal growth and activities of malignant cells can also release chemicals that cause pain.

Other causes of cancer pain include treatments and tests. For instance, patients undergoing chemotherapy can feel numbness and tingling sensation in their hands and feet. They may also feel a burning sensation at the spot where a drug is injected. On the other hand, radiotherapy can cause redness and irritation of the skin. 

Types of Cancer Pain

To devise an effective pain management plan, your doctor must understand the cause and type of pain you’re feeling. Some common types of cancer pain include:

Nerve Pain

Also referred to as neuropathic pain, nerve pain is caused by the tumor exerting pressure on the nerves and spinal cord or damaging the nerve tissues. It’s difficult to describe nerve pain, but patients usually describe it as a burning, tingling, shooting, or crawling sensation under the skin. 

Bone Pain

When cancer spreads into the bone, it damages the bone tissue, causing pain. The tumor can affect only a specific area or spread to other bones in the body. Also referred to as somatic pain, cancer-induced bone pain is often characterized by an aching, throbbing, or dull pain. 

Soft Tissue Pain

Soft tissues connect and support other tissues and surround body organs. They include muscles, tendons, and tissues supporting bones and joints. People with cancer often feel this kind of pain in a body organ or muscle. For instance, you might experience back pain because of tissue damage to the kidney. Soft-tissue pain is also known as visceral pain and is often described as sharp, throbbing, or cramping pain.  

The Effect of Pain among People with Cancer

Any form of pain, not just cancer pain, can affect an individual’s quality of life. Some days may be better, while others might be worse. 

Cancer pain incapacitates one from performing their job or routine activities to their best. It also impacts your sleeping and eating habits. It’s easy to get frustrated, sad, and even angry, which can be irritable with your loved ones. 

Your family and friends can’t understand your pain, and you can easily feel isolated and lonely. It’s normal, but it’s critical to discuss the pain with your pain management team for them to offer the most effective pain management therapy. 

How Can Cancer Treatments and Tests Cause Chronic Pain?

As aforementioned, cancer treatments and tests can worsen the pain one feels. That pain can come in the form of:

Surgical Pain

Doctors recommend surgery to treat cancers that spread and grow as solid tumors. Surgical pain can last for a few days or weeks, depending on the type of cancer. For example, some patients feel nerve pain after a surgical procedure. The affected nerves are cut during surgery, and the pain may last longer because nerves take a longer to heal, but once they heal, the pain subsides. 

You might need stronger medicine to ease the pain after surgery, but your doctor may prescribe less strong drugs to help you manage the pain after a few days. 

Phantom Pain

Phantom pain is typically experienced following the removal of a body part and has longer-lasting effects than surgical pain. For example, a patient with breast cancer experiences phantom pain after breast mastectomy. This pain is real and often excruciating and unbearable because of the missing body part.

No single interventional pain management therapy is used to control phantom pain. Your doctor can use various treatment methods to treat this type of pain. They include:

  • Pain drugs
  • Antidepressant medicines
  • Physical therapy
  • Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS)

Chemotherapy and Radiation Treatments

Some treatments have side effects that cause pain. The burning sensation caused by chemo or irritation to the skin due to radiation treatment can be so severe that a patient may stop treatment if it’s not well managed. It would be best to talk to your pain management team about any changes in pain that you experience for them to adjust the treatment technique accordingly.

If you have cancer and experience pain due to the disease or treatment, contact North Lakes Pain to get the most effective pain management treatment. We have double board-certified and fellowship-trained pain management doctors who can provide quality, safe, non-invasive treatment to alleviate your pain.

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