Episode 13: Managing Cancer Pain

3 June 2018

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Expert interviewed:
Professor Paul Glare, pain management specialist

Cancer Council podcast The Thing About Cancer - Paul Glare

The thing about cancer is that people often think cancer means pain. But is that actually the case? If people do experience pain, what are the best ways to manage it? And is there a difference between acute pain that might happen during cancer treatment and pain that might last for years afterwards?

In this episode of The Thing About Cancer, Julie sits down with pain management specialist Paul Glare, to discuss these questions, and much more.

Paul is well placed to talk about these issues. He has spent much of his working life as a doctor helping people with cancer manage their pain.

— Paul Glare, pain management specialist

Listen to Managing Cancer Pain now or find more episodes here.


Do people with cancer always experience pain?

Not everybody with cancer will experience pain. It can depend on the type of cancer, its stage, and the type of treatment you have.

Paul explains how pain is both a sensory and emotional experience. There’s no real way of knowing what a person is going through – especially as there are so many variables at play, from the actual physical pain, to the associated emotional responses, such as fear, anxiety, depression, and so on.

Seek help from your health care team

Because you can’t see pain, it’s important to describe how it feels to your doctor or nurse. Tissue damage pain is often described as an aching or throbbing sensation, while nerve damage pain is more like burning, shooting or stabbing. Describing how the pain feels to you will help the health care team get an idea of what’s causing the pain and how best to treat it.

— Phil, diagnosed with bowel cancer

Strategies for managing pain

Paul suggests some practical strategies that can help you manage your  pain, so it doesn’t disrupt your daily routines too much. Pain-killers such as opioids are typically used to treat strong acute pain caused by cancer or treatment, while pain that persists after treatment is generally treated with a mix of strategies, including pacing, stretching exercises, mindfulness and relaxation.

Paul delves into the complex relationship between a person’s pain and their response to the pain. He explains how cognitive behaviour therapy can help people think about their pain differently and reduce discomfort.

Listen to Managing Cancer Pain now or find more episodes here.


Want more information or support? 

If you heard something mentioned in the podcast, you’ll find a link to it below. We’ve also added links to other sources of information and support.

From Cancer Council NSW

From other organisations

  • Pain clinics in NSW – a list of pain management services published on the website of the NSW Department of Health
  • Pain apps – a list of apps designed to help with tracking pain and managing pain through a variety of approaches
  • NSW ACI Pain Management Network – find a series of videos to watch to help you gain a better understanding of your pain as well as a list of resources about managing chronic pain
  • Pain Australia – this national advocacy organisation provides lots of information about managing acute, chronic and cancer pain, and links to helpful resources, including support groups and apps
  • Breast Cancer Network Australia: Pain management – read more about developing a pain management plan and tips for those with breast cancer
  • Cancer pain management in adults –  these Australian guidelines by the Australian Adult Cancer Pain Management Guidance Working Party provide guidance for health professionals about how to assess and manage cancer-related pain in adults
  • Self-management resources for patients and families – find tools developed by the Australian Adult Cancer Pain Management Guidance Working Party, including a pain management plan template and pain management goal setting template

Listen to Managing Cancer Pain now or find more episodes here.

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