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For Any Cancer Diagnosis

Q. I am the caregiver for my elderly father who has cancer. My father’s cancer has spread to his bones and he's having pain. What can I do to help relieve his pain?

A.

Your father is fortunate to have a caring family caregiver who wants to help him get relief from his pain. Unrelieved pain may cause sadness, decreased mobility, and irritability. Treating cancer pain is essential to your father’s well being and I offer these suggestions:

  • Ask your father if he is willing to discuss his discomfort and pain with his health care team and if he wishes you to accompany him on his next appointment.
  • With your father’s approval, schedule an appointment as soon as possible.
  • Patients are often asked to describe their pain using a Pain Scale of 1-10 with 10 being the greatest amount of pain. His health care team will ask a number of questions to help identify the type of pain, examine the area where the pain is most bothersome, and order imaging tests to further determine the source of the pain.
  • Pain is effectively treated by over the counter as well as prescription medications. Most cancer hospitals have multi-disciplinary Pain Teams to recommend the best approaches to manage pain.
  • There are a number of prescription medications; some are delivered intravenously, to treat bone metastases. These treatments can also reduce pain.

CancerCare Connect booklets and fact sheets are also very informative:

The National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service is a resource for additional information. Call 1-800-4-CANCER or visit www.cancer.gov.

You can listen to free CancerCare Connect Education Workshop Podcasts addressing such topics as bone health and pain management or register for upcoming workshops.

For Breast Cancer

Q. I've recently started treatment for breast cancer. What can I do to reduce my risk of bone fractures?

A.

Some women’s breast cancer is estrogen receptor positive, which means that the breast cancer grows in response to estrogen. In these instances, your physician may recommend cancer treatments that block estrogen production. Many women develop bone loss as they age due to their decrease in estrogen production. Cancer treatments that block estrogen production have a similar effect in causing bone loss.

It’s important to ask your health care team:

  • Will my treatment affect the strength of my bones?
  • What can I do to reduce the risk of bone loss and risk of bone fracture?

Your health care team will be able to make recommendations to reduce the risk of bone fracture from bone loss which may include:

  • Eating calcium rich foods, such as yogurt, cheese, leafy green vegetables, such collard greens and Swiss chard
  • Exercising to strengthen the muscles that support your bones
  • Using over the counter calcium (calcium citrate is more easily absorbed) and vitamin D supplements
  • Taking prescription medication to strengthen bones
  • Consulting with rehabilitation medicine specialists, including a physical therapist, to develop an exercise program that is safe and designed to meet your needs

To learn more, CancerCare offers a free podcast, Caring For Your Bones When You Have Breast Cancer, and publication, Latest News in Breast Cancer Research.

The National Cancer Institute’s information specialists can provide evidence-based information on caring for your bones when you have breast cancer by calling 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) or visiting www.cancer.gov.

If you have additional questions about bone health, please contact CancerCare directly for information and guidance. CancerCare provides free professional support services, including counseling, education, financial assistance and practical help. If you have a specific concern or question and would like to speak with an oncology social worker, please contact us at 1-800-813-HOPE (4673).

For questions about medical issues, please visit Cancer.net, the patient information website of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).