Cancer pain: assessment

The relief of pain depends on good communication between the individual with pain and the doctor and other health care professionals treating them. The person with the pain is the one who knows the pain best. The doctor or nurse should not be the one who decides whether the pain exists or how bad it is. Many studies have shown that doctors and nurses underestimate the severity of the pain. Perhaps this is because the health worker feels that they are failing if the person has pain. An essential aspect for successfully treating pain is that the person with the pain is believed.

Likewise, if you are feeling pain, do not try to hide or minimize it. You will feel better if you involve others, so talk about it with your family and friends. Most importantly, discuss it with your doctor and other members of your health care team. The more they know about you and the pain you are experiencing, the more they can help you.

To treat the pain effectively, the doctor needs to ask many questions concerning the pain. The answers will give your doctor an excellent guide to the nature of your pain. By answering these questions, you may even notice new things about your pain that you had not realized before. For example, if there are certain activities or positions that affect your pain, avoiding those situations will give you some additional ways to control your pain.

Typical questions that might be asked may include:

  • How many pains are there? (The average cancer patient has two or three different pains that may or may not be related to their disease.)
  • When did the pain(s) start? When the pain started, was it as bad as it ever became or did it gradually get more severe?
  • Where is the pain? Does it travel anywhere else in the body?
  • What does the pain feel like? Is it dull, sharp, aching, piercing, shooting, burning, tingling, etc.? Many people will have several different pains that feel different.
  • Is the pain constant or intermittent?
  • Is there anything that makes the pain feel better or worse? For example if the cancer involves the bones in the spine, the pain will be better lying down but much worse when the person gets up and moves around.
  • How bad is the pain? The best way to measure your pain is to use the same measurement tool each time. There are many ways to measure pain using words, numbers, and colors. The one that is most commonly used is the numerical pain scale.
  • What have you tried already to relieve the pain? How well did it work?
  • How is this pain affecting your daily living? Are you able to do everything you want to do despite the pain? Or do you greatly reduce your activities or stay in bed to reduce the pain to a manageable level?

The contents of this health site are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition.

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