Cancer pain shares the same pathology as non-cancer pain. Cancer pain is associated with a process called “nociception’, which involves activation of the sensory afferents by persistent stimuli. The pain from cancer is directly related to tissue injury, which is activated by primary afferent neurons (nociceptors), which are located in the skin, joints, muscle, and visceral organs.
One major type of cancer pain is spinal cord compression. This usually leads to neck and back pain from cord compression, and can also contribute to weakness of an arm or leg, as well as numbness of an extremity. This compression is treated with interventional measures, which can alleviate nerve irritation and inflammation. Another kind of pain is bone pain, which occurs when cancer spreads to the bones. External radiation is used to treat weakened bones. Radioactive medicine is given to treat affected areas of the bone and make them stronger.
Pain is an unfortunate experience for many patients. With advanced stages of cancer, 50% of patients’ report severe pain. There are usually two sources of cancer pain:
- Tumor involvement – As a tumor grows in size, it can put pressure on surrounding tissues and organs. This presses on nerve endings and leads to bone pain, muscle pain, and headaches.
- Response to anti-cancer treatments – Surgeries, radiation, biopsies, injections, and other procedures can lead to significant pain.