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Some people have a lot of pain after treatment, while others have less. Everyone is different. Types of pain you may feel after cancer treatment include:

  • Pain or numbness in the hands and feet due to injured nerves Chemotherapy or surgery can damage nerves, which can cause severe pain (This is called neuropathy.)
  • Painful scars from cancer surgery.
  • Pain in a missing limb or breast. While doctors do not know why this pain occurs, it is real. It is not just "in your mind." This is sometimes called phantom pain.
Getting Help With Pain From Your Doctor Or Nurse

If you find that you still have pain after treatment ends, your doctor can help find the source of your pain and get relief. You do not have to be in pain. And wanting to control pain is not a sign of weakness. It's a way to help you feel better and stay active. Pain may be caused by treatment or other health issues, such as arthritis.

With your help, your doctor can assess how severe your pain is. Then, he or she might suggest one or more of the following approaches.

  • Pain relief medicines. In most cases, doctors will try the mildest medicines first. Then they will work up to stronger medicines if you need them. The key to getting relief is to take all medicines just as your doctor prescribes. To keep pain under control, do not skip doses or wait until you hurt to take these medicines. You may be afraid that if you use medicines you'll become a "drug addict," but this rarely happens if you take the correct dose and see your doctor regularly.
  • Antidepressant medicines. Some of these are prescribed to reduce pain or numbness from injured nerves.
  • Physical therapy. Going to a physical therapist may help relieve your pain. The therapist may use heat, cold, massage, pressure, and/or exercise to help you feel better.
  • Braces. These limit movement of a painful limb or joint.
  • Acupuncture. This is a proven method that uses needles at pressure points to reduce pain.
  • Hypnosis, meditation or yoga. Any of these may help your pain. A trained specialist can teach you these approaches.
  • Relaxation skills. Many people with cancer have found that practicing deep relaxation helped relieve their pain or reduced their stress.
  • Nerve blocks or surgery. If you do not get relief from the other approaches in this section, you may want to ask the doctor about nerve blocks or surgery. They often help if you have persistent, limiting pain, but they may put you at risk for other problems. They may also require you to stay in the hospital.

NOTE: Make sure your health insurance covers the pain-relief approaches your doctor recommends.

Tips: Talking To Your Doctor About Pain

Here are some tips to help you describe your pain to your doctor:

  • Use numbers. Talk about how strong the pain feels on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain you could have.
  • Describe what the pain feels like. Is it sharp, dull, throbbing, steady?
  • Point out the exact places it hurts, either on your body or on a drawing. Note whether the pain stays in one place or whether it moves outward from the spot.
  • Explain when you feel pain. Note when it starts, how long it lasts, if it gets better or worse at certain times of day or night, and if anything you do makes it better or worse.
  • Describe how your pain affects your daily life. Does it stop you from working? Doing household chores? Seeing your friends and family? Going out and having fun?
  • Make a list of all the medicines you are taking (for any reason). If you are taking any for pain relief, how much do they help?
  • Talk about any side effects from your pain control medicine, such as constipation or other changes in bowel habits, or feeling groggy or "out of it." Many of these problems can be helped.
  • Keep a record of your pain. Jotting down notes about your pain can help you track changes over time. It can also show how you respond to any pain control medicine or other treatment you receive.
Tips: Practicing Relaxation to Relieve Pain and Stress

Relaxation can help you feel better — both mentally and physically. For most of us, though, it is not easy to "just relax." Relaxation is a skill, and it needs to be practiced just like any other skill.

Many people wait until they are in a lot of pain or feel a lot of stress before they try to relax, when it can be hardest to succeed. Then they might try to relax by overeating, smoking or drinking — activities that are not helpful and might even be harmful.

  • Take the time to learn helpful relaxation skills and practice them often. You can take a class, or buy a relaxation tape or CD.

Aetna Members: If you would like more information about breast cancer and breast cancer prevention, please call (888) 322 8742.

Miembros de Aetna: Si desean mayor información sobre el cáncer de seno y sobre su prevención por favor llame al (888) 322 8742.

Last updated July 9, 2010