Cancer Pain Causes

Tumors, Chemotherapy, and Other Causes

Many people with cancer have cancer pain, and they want to know what's causing their cancer pain.

Sometimes it's easy for your doctor to figure out exactly what's causing your pain, but it can be difficult, too. That's because cancer pain can be caused by a variety of factors. And sometimes cancer pain can be caused by a combination of factors, making it more difficult to identify the cause of the pain.

Below are common cancer pain causes:

  • The cancer itself: A cancer tumor (especially a very large tumor) is the most common cause of cancer pain. If the cancer grows bigger or spreads (known as metastasis in the medical world), it can cause pain by pressing on your bones, nerves, muscles, organs, and other tissues. The cancer itself may also trigger an inflammatory response in your body, which can make your pain worse.1
  • Side effects of cancer treatments: Treatments for cancer, such as surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, can be life-saving when you have cancer, but they can all cause pain. For example, chemotherapy attacks cancer cells, but it can also damage the healthy tissues in your body.1 Also, even after you've finished treatment for cancer, cancer pain can linger.
  • Medical tests: Some medical tests that are used to diagnose cancer or monitor your treatment can be painful. For example, a biopsy or bone marrow test can both cause pain.
  • Compression of the spinal cord: If a tumor spreads to the spine, it can press on the spine, causing spinal cord compression. With spinal cord compression, you may have back and/or neck pain; and simple things—such as coughing—can make it worse.

Don't be afraid to ask your doctor or other members of your cancer pain treatment team any questions you have about cancer pain causes.

Updated on: 11/18/15
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Cancer Pain Diagnosis