Many people are naturally worried about being in pain. It’s important to tell your treatment team if you are in pain. Pain may be a symptom of mesothelioma, but can also be a side effect of treatment.
Learn more about:
- Pain medicines
- Procedures to manage fluid build-up
- Debulking surgery
- Ways to cope with pain at home
Pain caused by mesothelioma is usually dull and generalised – it can be difficult to say exactly where it is coming from. If the cancer spreads and presses on bones or organs, it may feel sharp and stabbing. A sharp pain in the chest can also be caused by a blood clot in the lungs (pulmonary embolism), so seek urgent medical help if the pain is new. Chemotherapy or surgery can injure nerves causing pain or numbness.
Read below to learn about the several different ways to control pain and see our general section on Pain and cancer.
Different types and strengths may be used:
- mild, like paracetamol
- moderate, like codeine
- strong and opioid-based, like morphine.
Pain medicines may come as tablets, oral liquids, patches, injections or intravenous infusions. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or drugs for nerve pain may also be prescribed. Many people need a combination of medicines for good pain control.
Opioids, such as morphine or oxycodone, are the most common drugs used to control moderate-to-severe mesothelioma pain. Morphine is available in quick-acting and long-acting forms. Some people worry they might get addicted to morphine. Pain specialists believe this is unlikely if you take it as prescribed to relieve acute pain or for palliative care. Morphine can be taken for a long time and in increasing doses, if needed. It doesn’t have to be saved for when pain is very bad.
There are many strong pain medicines similar to morphine, so if one doesn’t work, ask your doctor for other options. A small number of people have difficulty controlling their pain, and a pain management specialist may help find a solution.
Aside from breathlessness, fluid build-up around the abdomen can cause pain. Various treatments can help drain the fluid and try to prevent it building up again.
This can reduce the size of the mesothelioma that is causing the pain. Learn more about chemotherapy for peritoneal mesothelioma.
If you are well enough and it is technically possible, surgery may be used to remove the part of the mesothelioma causing pain and other symptoms. This is known as debulking surgery. Talk to your doctor for more information.
Ways to cope with pain
Keep notes on your painDescribe and track pain in a symptom diary – what it feels like, how intense it is, exactly where it is, where it comes from and goes to, how long it lasts, and if it goes away with a medicine or a heat pack, etc.
Take it slowAllow a few days for your body to adjust to the dose of pain medicine and for any drowsiness to improve.
Report side effectsLet your doctor know if you have vivid dreams, nausea or other side effects after taking a strong pain medicine such as morphine or oxycodone.
Watch for constipationAsk your doctor if you need a laxative or stool softener prescribed to prevent or relieve constipation (difficulty passing bowel movements) caused by pain medicines.
Keep up your medicineTake pain medicine regularly as prescribed, even when you’re not in pain. It’s better to stay on top of the pain.
Check your pain planAsk your doctor to review your pain management plan regularly. If you have problems, adjusting the dose may help, or you can try other methods of pain relief.
I could not believe how much better I felt after taking some pain relief. Everything seemed less stressful and I did not feel so angry and upset all the time.BILL
Podcast: Managing Cancer Pain
Dr Anthony Linton, Medical Oncologist, Concord Cancer Centre and Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW; Dr Naveed Alam, Thoracic Surgeon, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne and Monash Medical Centre, VIC; Donatella Arnoldo, Consumer; Polly Baldwin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Dr Melvin (Wee Loong) Chin, Medical Oncologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and National Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases, WA; Prof Kwun Fong, Thoracic and Sleep Physician and Director, UQ Thoracic Research Centre, The Prince Charles Hospital, and Professor of Medicine, The University of Queensland, QLD; Vicki Hamilton OAM, Consumer and CEO, Asbestos Council of Victoria/GARDS Inc., VIC; Dr Susan Harden, Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Penny Jacomos, Social Worker, Asbestos Diseases Society of South Australia, SA; Prof Brian Le, Director, Parkville Integrated Palliative Care Service, The Royal Melbourne Hospital and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Lung Cancer Support Nurses, Lung Foundation Australia; Jocelyn McLean, Mesothelioma Support Coordinator, Asbestos Diseases Research Institute, NSW; Prof David Morris, Peritonectomy Surgeon, St George Hospital and UNSW, NSW; Joanne Oates, Registered Occupational Therapist, Expert Witness in Dust Diseases, and Director, Evaluate, NSW; Chris Sheppard and Adam Barlow, RMB Lawyers.
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