What Is Cancer Pain?

by Nicole Berardoni M.D, Paul Lynch M.D, and Tory McJunkin M.D

Cancer-PainCancer pain can take many forms and is experienced differently by each patient. Cancer is a devastating diagnosis that affects people on several different levels.

Many people with cancer eventually experience pain due to their condition. Approximately 20% of patients with newly diagnosed malignancies complain of pain.

Thirty percent of patients undergoing cancer treatment complain of pain, and up to 90% of those with advanced cancer experience pain (Grossman 1994).

Cancer pain can be sharp and severe, or it can be a dull constant ache.

Regardless of the type of pain, a diagnosis of cancer does not mean you have to suffer with debilitating pain.

The physicians at Arizona Pain Specialists understand the devastating effects cancer-related pain can have on your life.

They will work diligently to develop a treatment plan that meets your specific needs.


Cancer pain can be caused by many different sources.

Pain can be experienced when a tumor presses on nerves or expands inside a hollow organ. Pain also commonly originates from bone destructive lytic lesions.

Bone marrow infiltration commonly causes bone pain that can be severe. Unfortunately the radiation and chemotherapeutic treatments that are frequently used to treat cancer can also cause pain.

Cancer pain


The treatment for pain due to cancer is specific to an individual.

It is important for you and your pain physician to develop a treatment regimen that will be most beneficial and successful for you.

Some of the commonly used non-drug pain treatments include:

  • Pharmacotherapy: NSAIDs (Ibuprofen-like drugs), opiod type medications, muscle relaxants, and membrane-stabilizing medications can be very effective in treating cancer pain.
  • Nerve blocks: Specific nerve blocks and neurodestructive procedures can help relieve pain conditions due to cancer. One such block is used for patients with unresectable pancreatic cancer. Celiac plexus blocks can be extremely effective at treating difficult pain. Recent studies show this technique helped to control pain and reduce pain medication consumption (Yan 2007). Your pain physician will determine which nerve block treatment is right for you.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): This is a technique that relieves pain by applying mild electric current to the skin at the site of the pain. The electric impulses interfere with normal pain sensations and alter perceptions that were previously painful.
  • Intrathecal pumps: Implanted pain pumps are also available, which can be extremely helpful providing long-term pain control. The effectiveness of intrathecal therapy in patients suffering from nociceptive pain showed a pain reduction in 66.7% of patients experiencing pain due to cancer (Becker 2000).
  • Biofeedback: This is a treatment that teaches a patient to become aware of processes that are normally thought to be involuntary inside of the body (such as blood pressure, temperature, and heart rate control). This method enables you to gain some conscious control of these processes, which can influence and improve your level of pain. A better awareness of one’s body teaches one to effectively relax, and this can help to relieve pain.
  • Massage: Gentle focal rubbing of the tender areas may help relieve muscle spasms or contractions and improve associated discomfort. Massage can also help patients relax, decreasing stress and tension.
  • Radiation therapy and surgery: These can also have palliative outcomes for cancer patients.
At Arizona Pain, our goal is to relieve your cancer pain and improve function to increase your quality of life.
Give us a call today at 480-563-6400.


  1. Current management of pain in patients with cancer. Oncology (Williston Park). 1994 Mar;8(3):93-107; discussion 107, 110, 115 Grossman SA, Staats PS. PMID: 7912540
  2. Neurolytic celiac plexus block for pain control in unresectable pancreatic cancer. Yan BM, Myers RP. Am J Gastroenterol. 2007 Feb;102(2):430-8. Epub 2006 Nov 13 PMID: 17100960
  3. The significance of intrathecal opioid therapy for the treatment of neuropathic cancer pain conditions. Becker R, Jakob D, Uhle EI, Riegel T, Bertalanffy H. Stereotact Funct Neurosurg. 2000;75(1):16-26 PMID: 11416261