Pain and Chemotherapy
The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the type of chemotherapy and the amount
given. Anticipating and managing side effects can help to reduce them and provide
the best possible experience for the person receiving chemotherapy.
As each person's individual medical profile and diagnosis is different, so is his
or her reaction to treatment. Side effects may be severe, mild, or absent. Be sure
to discuss with your cancer care team possible side effects of treatment before the
Chemotherapy medicines can have painful side effects. If the medicines cause nerve
damage, you may experience burning, numbness, tingling, or shooting pain most often
in the fingers or toes. Mouth sores, headaches, muscle pains, and stomach pains can
also result from some chemotherapy medicines.
The goal of pain control is to prevent pain that can be prevented, and to treat pain
that cannot be prevented. It is possible that you will not have pain from chemotherapy
treatments. But if you do, you can take steps to relieve it. The first step is to
talk with your healthcare provider or pharmacist about your pain. Contact your healthcare
provider at the first signs or symptoms of pain. Side effects like neuropathy may
be dependent on the dose or duration of treatment. The pain can worsen with ongoing
treatment. Give them as many details as possible. The National Cancer Institute recommends
that you describe your pain to your family and friends. This way they can help communicate
with your caregivers if you are too tired or in too much pain to talk to them yourself.
Be sure to describe the following:
Location of the pain. In what parts of your body are you experiencing the greatest
Description of the pain. Describe what the pain feels like. Is it sharp or dull, throbbing
Describe the intensity of the pain. How strong is the pain? Use a numerical scale,
with 0 being no pain and 10 being the greatest pain.
Length of the pain. How long does the pain last?
What makes the pain better or worse? What types of activities or positions make the
pain better or worse? What are your ideas about what is causing the pain?
Medicine history and profile. List the names of the medicines you are currently taking
and their effectiveness.
For chronic pain, take your pain medicine on a regular schedule (by the clock). Do
not skip doses. If you wait to take pain medicine until you feel pain, it may be more
difficult to control. To lessen tension and reduce anxiety, it may also be helpful
to use relaxation exercises when you take your medicines.
You may find that your usual pain can be controlled by medicine. Occasionally a more
severe pain will “break through” for a short time. In some cases, your healthcare
provider may prescribe a short-acting medicine.
Many different medicines and methods are available to control cancer pain. If you
are in pain and your healthcare provider has no further suggestions, ask to see a
pain or palliative care specialist. Or, have your healthcare provider talk with a
pain specialist. A pain specialist may be an oncologist, anesthesiologist, neurologist,
neurosurgeon, another healthcare provider, or pharmacist.