For people living with cancer, managing pain and other symptoms often depends on how much the cancer has spread to other parts of the body and the location of the tumors. It is important to maintain open and honest communication with your health care team about any symptoms or pain that you are experiencing to help improve your quality of life.

Talking to Your Doctor About Pain

These are some of the things to discuss with your health care team and some of the questions they may ask you:

When and where is your pain? You may experience pain in more than one place in your body. Your doctor needs to understand the cause of pain in each place. Was there a particular event that led to the pain?

What does the pain feel like? For example, is it dull, sharp, burning, pinching or stabbing?

What is the intensity of your pain? Different pain scales can help you rate your pain:

  • The simplest scale goes from 0 to 10, with 0 equaling no pain and 10 equaling the worst pain possible.
  • A verbal scale uses mild, moderate and severe as key words to describe pain levels.
  • A series of cartoon-like faces shows differing degrees of discomfort from 0 to 10.
  • Sometimes a thermometer-type scale is used.

Does anything make the pain worse? Does standing or sitting make it hurt more? Is it worse at night, for example, and better during the day?

Does anything relieve the pain? Do you feel better if you apply ice or heat to the area or if you lie down or walk around?

How much relief are you getting from pain medication? Does your pain medication provide you with enough relief? Does it wear off before it’s time for your next dose? Are you having any unpleasant side effects?

Are you having any breakthrough pain? How many such episodes of breakthrough pain do you have? When do they occur? How long do they last? What makes them better?

Is the pain affecting your everyday life? Is pain disturbing your sleep or your ability to eat? Are you able to go about your day without being interrupted by pain?

Keeping a Pain and Symptom Journal

By writing down any symptoms or side effects that you experience on a daily basis, it can help inform you and your health care team about how to improve your care. As a result of keeping a treatment journal, you may notice patterns in the onset of pain and symptoms that you didn’t notice before. Writing in a journal can also help you feel empowered as you cope with cancer.

Work with your health care team to make a list of all of your medications, chemotherapy and targeted treatments, including their dosage and the frequency in which they are taken. To keep track of side effects, you may find it helpful to write down information such as:

• When the side effect occurred and for how long
• How strong was the discomfort/pain on a scale of 1-10
• How the side effect impacts your daily activities
• Contact information for each member of your health care team
• When to call your doctor and/or go to the emergency room with a symptom
• Any other questions or concerns you have

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This activity is supported by a grant from Genentech, AbbVie and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Last updated July 01, 2017

The information presented in this publication is provided for your general information only. It is not intended as medical advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultations with qualified health professionals who are aware of your specific situation. We encourage you to take information and questions back to your individual health care provider as a way of creating a dialogue and partnership about your cancer and your treatment.

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