When a loved one is diagnosed with mesothelioma (or any type of cancer), it is natural to be concerned about the pain they may suffer. When my husband, Brian, was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, this was one of my major concerns.
With no nursing experience, I did not know what to expect, nor did I have any idea of how I could help him if he was in pain. The only thing I knew was that I did not want him to suffer.
I used the Internet to source information about pain related to cancer and how it could be brought under control, and I am so glad I did.
Once I had an understanding of the medications that were commonly used for controlling cancer pain, I was better able to work with Brian to keep his pain under control.
I learned that there are different types of pain and that not all pain is controlled by the same medication. Depending on the type of cancer, a combination of medical procedures, medications and alternative treatments may be needed to keep pain under control.
Medications Used to Treat Cancer Pain
Most pain control medications are taken orally. There may be other ways to administer medication, however, including through suppositories, transdermal patches, injections or an epidural.
Pain medication comes in two categories: non- opioids and opioids.
Non-opioid (non-narcotic) medication is recommended to treat mild to moderate pain. Non-opioids include aspirin, Tylenol, Aleve, ibuprofen and a number of other medications. They can be bought over the counter and may be combined with other medications to treat moderate to severe pain.
Patients should be sure to discuss all medications with their doctor, including anything they are taking over the counter.
Opioids (narcotics) are widely used for the treatment of pain associated with cancer and are only available by prescription. These drugs work by stopping the pain signal that is sent to the brain or by changing the brain’s perception of the signal.
Opioids include morphine, Vicodin, Norco, OxyContin and Percocet.
Antidepressant drugs are not only used for the treatment of depression. They may also be used to treat nerve pain associated with cancer.
In addition, steroids can help reduce inflammation and ease cancer pain.
Alternative Therapies to Treat Cancer Pain
There are a number of complementary and alternative therapies that can greatly assist in pain management for cancer patients. Generally, these are not meant to replace medications, but to supplement them and assist in the relief of other symptoms related to the cancer.
These therapies include:
Breathing Exercises: Help to relieve tension and promote relaxation.
Biofeedback: A learned technique that can help patients to control their pain.
Hypnosis: Creates a state of deep relaxation and can reduce stress and anxiety.
Massage: Facilitates relaxation and can help to relieve painful muscle spasms.
Acupuncture: Can relieve symptoms caused by medical procedures and medications, and reduce stress.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS): Electrodes are placed on the skin and transmit a gentle current into the tissues to ease muscle tension and pain.
Medical Procedures to Relieve Mesothelioma Pain
Pain medication works for the majority of cancer patients, but it does not work for everyone. When this happens, others treatments can reduce the level of pain.
Surgery: Neurosurgeon can perform procedure to “block” the nerve pathways that carry pain signals to the brain.
Palliative chemotherapy: Can shrink the tumor, thus reducing pain. (My husband, Brian, was offered palliative chemotherapy, which was successful in shrinking his tumor. It not only reduced his pain, but also eased the compression of his esophagus and allowed for him to swallow food again.)
If you are caring for a loved one with mesothelioma, take comfort in the knowledge that they need not suffer unnecessary pain.
Remember that what works for one patient may not work for another. Encourage your loved one to work with their doctor to determine which medications, procedures and treatments could work well for them.
When the pain and symptoms associated with mesothelioma are under control, quality of life will improve.