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Mesothelioma is a rare cancer primarily afflicting people who have been exposed to asbestos. Patients are often diagnosed after experiencing mysterious pains and other symptoms. Cancer-related pain is often extreme, but there are strategies to manage that pain. Your physician and health care providers can use several methods to help you, including therapies designed to alleviate pain via surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Opioids and other medications can also be used to manage pain.
Causes of Pain
Mesothelioma-related pain has multiple causes. However, the two main sources of pain are the cancer itself and the treatments used to manage it. Mesothelioma tumors can put pressure on your organs, bones and nerves, and can even obstruct important blood vessels. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery all have side effects, including pain of varying intensity. They can cause cramping, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea, numbness in the extremities, and bone and joint pain. Even minor procedures such as biopsies can cause patient discomfort. Drug and non-drug therapies are available to help manage this pain.
It is important to communicate with your medical team about your pain. Do not be afraid of being labeled a “whiner” or “complainer” because you asked for help. Tell your physician when you are uncomfortable. Let them know where you hurt, how much it hurts, and if there is anything specific that makes the pain worse or better.
Many cancer patients are hesitant to take pain medication. They may fear addiction, especially to opioid medication. Patients may also worry about the effectiveness of the drugs decreasing as their disease progresses. Both concerns are unfounded. Many patients are given opioids for pain relief. There is not the same concerns for addition in the cancer setting. Opioids given for mesothelioma pain are administered with doctor supervision to treat chronic or breakthrough pain. Although some patients do become physically dependent, that problem can be resolved through a careful dosing plan.
Mesothelioma patients also worry that taking pain medications early in their treatment could hinder the drug’s effectiveness later, when pain becomes more intense. This is another mistaken belief. Though the body may become tolerant of a pain medication, the analgesic impact of opioids does not diminish over time. Mesothelioma patients should accept the relief these drugs offer. There is no reward for suffering unnecessarily.
Patients should also understand any pain medication they take is just one of many available options. Physicians are familiar with many pain management drugs and techniques. If a particular treatment does not work, let your doctor know so they can try a more effective option.
Palliative care teams have expertise in managing the pain and associated side effects related to cancer and treatment. The ability to control and manage pain may change during the course of the mesothelioma journey. While it can be difficult to guarantee complete relief, by working closely with your medical team they will help you with reducing the pain as best they can.
Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by Anne Courtney, AOCNP, DNP
Anne Courtney has a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and is an Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner. She has years of oncology experience working with patients with malignant mesothelioma, as well as other types of cancer. Dr. Courtney currently works at University of Texas LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes.