Pain is too often a harsh reality for people with cancer.
Although prescription pain medicine can ease constant pain, many people with cancer may still experience sudden flares of pain that occur throughout the day. This type of pain, called “breakthrough pain,” can affect even the most routine things, such as walking or getting out of bed.
Breakthrough pain affects up to 89 percent of people who are treated for constant cancer pain, but the condition often goes under-diagnosed and under-treated. Despite its impact, patients often have difficulty describing how their breakthrough pain is different from their constant pain. But by better understanding their condition, patients may be able to describe their pain more accurately so they can receive the care they need.
Breakthrough pain is a real condition that occurs when moderate-to-severe pain “breaks through” a patient’s constant pain medicine and may be debilitating in some patients. Episodes may strike with speed and intensity and can occur several times throughout the day, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to an hour. Breakthrough pain is often unpredictable and may be brought on by something as simple as coughing or during routine tasks. It may even occur without a specific cause.
That’s why it is important for people with cancer to talk to their doctor or nurse about any pain. If you think you are experiencing breakthrough pain related to cancer, the first step in developing an appropriate treatment plan is to describe exactly what you’re experiencing. Patients may find it helpful to keep track of their symptoms so that they can discuss with their healthcare professional how quickly and often the breakthrough pain hits, at what times, and how it feels.