Caring for Cancer Patients with Pain
When people say they are having pain, it can mean different things. They are referring to a specific part of the body that hurts, they are feeling bad but not in a specific place or they just can’t get comfortable. If a person is anxious, sad, or depressed, the feeling of pain can be worse. Some people have difficulty talking about their pain. Then it is up to the caregiver to watch for signs in the patient that pain is worsening and encourage them to talk about it.
What to look for*
- Pain that doesn’t seem to go away or that goes away but comes back before the next dose of medicine is due
- Trouble sleeping
- Lack of interest in things the patient used to enjoy
- Worry about things that didn’t cause concern in the past
- New areas of pain or a change in pain
- Less physical activity, or reduced ability to move around
Safe Use of Medication
Some people may not want to use pain medicines because they fear they will become addicted. You can reassure them that people with cancer who have never abused drugs do not become addicted to or use opioid pain-relieving drugs for pleasure. Their bodies can become tolerant of the pain medicine after a time, so the dose may need to be increased to get the same pain relief. But when the person has cancer pain, it is not a sign of addiction.
Pain medicines work best if they are used around the clock before the pain becomes severe. It takes more medicine to control severe pain than milder pain, so it’s best to treat pain when it first starts and regularly after that. Drug dosage and schedule should be adjusted by the doctor, as the patient’s needs change. Long-term cancer pain can be exhausting. It can keep patients from doing things they want and need to do. Even with around-the-clock pain medicines, pain often “breaks through” between doses.
What caregivers can do
- If the patient is having frequent, severe pain, talk with the doctor about medicine to take around the clock. If pain “breaks through,” find out if there is another medicine to use between doses of the main pain medicine.
- Remind the patient that pain medicine, when used as directed, does not cause addiction.
- To avoid over- or under-dosing, help the patient track when pain medicines are due.
- Watch for confusion and dizziness, especially after new medicines are started or when doses are changed. Help the patient with walking until you know they can do it safely.
- Watch the patient for signs of unrelieved pain. Ask the patient about pain if you notice grimacing, moaning, tension, or reluctance to move around in bed.
- Try warm baths or warm washcloths on painful areas. (Avoid areas where radiation was given.) If this doesn’t help, you can try ice or cool packs. Gentle massage or pressure may help some types of pain.
- Encourage distractions that the patient enjoys. Plan activities for when the patient is most comfortable and awake.
- Offer plenty of fluids and food with fiber. To prevent constipation, remind the patient to take the stool softeners and laxatives the doctor suggests.
- Check with the doctor, nurse, or pharmacist before you crush or dissolve pain pills to make them easier to swallow. Some pills can cause a dangerous overdose if broken.
- Be sure that the patient has a list of all the medicines they are on, including pain medicines. This is even more important if unexpected medical problems come up.
- Plan time for activities you enjoy and take care of yourself. A support group for family members may be helpful.
Call the doctor if the patient:
- Has any new or more severe pain
- Cannot take anything by mouth, including the pain medicine
- Does not get pain relief, or if the relief doesn’t last long enough with the medicines that have been prescribed
- Has trouble waking up, or if you have trouble keeping them awake
- Becomes constipated, nauseated, or confused
- Has any questions about how to take the medicines
- Develops a new symptom (for instance, is unable to walk, eat, or urinate)
DTN Home Care can assist you or your loved one who is undergoing chemotherapy treatments and may be suffering from cancer-related pain. Our licensed and experienced caregivers can help in a number of ways, including:
- Make the patient more comfortable
- Help the patient stay free from infection
- Prepare meals that ensure healthy living and promote recovery
- Do housekeeping chores
- Run errands
- Provide companionship
To inquire about in home healthcare from DTN Home Care for yourself or a loved one, call 701.663.5373.