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Pain management for breast cancer

pain management

What is pain management?

Pain management is a branch of medicine focused on reducing pain and improving quality of life through an integrative approach to care. Pain management is particularly important for cancer patients, considering one in three patients continue to experience pain after treatment. Those with advanced cancer are most likely to have severe pain. The good news, according to the National Cancer Institute, is that up to 90 percent of cancer patients get relief from relatively simple pain management therapies.

Most of the pain associated with cancer can be blamed on the tumor itself. The tumor pushes on nerves, bones or organs, which can lead to significant discomfort. Pain also can result from common cancer treatments: chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. For example, chemotherapy can lead to peripheral neuropathy, a condition that includes tingling, numbness and weakness in the hands and arms or legs and feet.

Pain management can improve quality of life at any stage of cancer, so managing your pain is our priority. Our experienced Pain Management team cares for you throughout your treatment to help reduce your pain and ensure that you are comfortable. We use a variety of modalities to treat and control pain, including:

  • Prescription medications
  • Implanted pain pumps
  • Nerve block therapies
  • Physical therapy
  • Acupuncture and auriculotherapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Relaxation techniques and guided imagery
  • Chiropractic treatment

Experienced care team

The team approach to care is critical for pain management. Our pain management team is fully integrated with your oncologist and other members of your care team. In addition to medication, your pain management regimen may include one or more of our integrative oncology services:

  • Naturopathic medicine uses natural therapies to help you combat pain, as well as reduce the hormonal side effects that may accompany cancer treatment.
  • Oncology rehabilitation plays a key role in pain management by using a variety of physical therapy and other techniques to improve mobility and trigger the release of endorphins, which are the immune system’s natural defense against pain.
  • The Mind-Body Medicine team is available to teach you relaxation tools to help you manage pain, and to reduce the anxiety and fatigue related to cancer or cancer treatment.

For patients staying at the hospital, “Comfort Rounds” are conducted twice weekly. During these visits, pain management practitioners thoroughly evaluate your current pain level and how your current treatment approach is working. Based on their evaluation, these clinicians will make any necessary modifications to your treatment plan.

Personalized treatment approach

The pain symptoms you experience are unique, which is why we tailor your pain management plan to your individual case. Pain itself can be dull, achy or sharp. It can occur frequently or once in a while, and it can be mild, moderate or severe. The pain you experience may depend on your cancer type and stage, how much the cancer has spread, and how sensitive you are to pain (your tolerance for pain). Whatever type of pain you experience, we want to treat it early to prevent it from worsening.

Managing side effects

Some prescription medicines used to treat pain have side effects, including nausea, vomiting, itching, constipation and drowsiness. Your doctor may change the dosage, time taken or the medicine itself to see if you experience fewer side effects. In addition, our integrative oncology services can help you manage any side effects that you experience with pain management. We offer nutrition therapy, naturopathic medicine, mind-body medicine and other services.

Pain management

Video: Pain Management

Dr. Mark Axness briefly discusses the individualized pain management cancer patients receive at Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

Pain management for breast cancer

During the course of your breast cancer journey, you may experience pain from the cancer itself, or as a side effect of treatment. Pain associated with breast cancer is generally related to the stage of the disease. For example, a breast lump typically has no pain. However, if the disease progresses or metastasizes to the bone, you may experience sharp and/or achy pains.

We understand that unrelieved breast cancer pain can diminish your quality of life as well as your ability to battle the disease. Throughout your treatment, our pain management team will proactively work to manage and control your pain so you can focus on healing. 

Some pain management approaches for breast cancer include:

  • Pharmacological pain control: Some common breast cancer pain medications include anti-inflammatory drugs, narcotics and steroids.
  • Neuropathic pain control: Your pain management practitioner will consult with other members of your care team to provide nerve injections, implanted pain pumps or nerve stimulation devices like Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation (TENS) to help promote nerve regeneration.
  • Palliative treatments: For breast cancer that has spread to the liver, radiation therapy may help to reduce the size of the tumor on the liver. If you experience pleural effusion (abnormal fluid build-up around the lungs), a thoracentesis can drain fluid that surrounds the lungs and help you breathe better.

Aside from your oncologists, your breast cancer pain management practitioner will consult regularly with other members of your care team to balance pain medicine with supportive options, such as oncology rehabilitation therapies, naturopathic medicine and mind-body medicine.

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