Cancer Pain Types

by Andrew Mills


Most of the cancer patients experience some kind of pain at some point of the treatment, which can be a persistent, continues or chronic pain.

Types of pain

Depending on the body part where the pain is experienced there are three types of pains –

  1. Somatic pain – somatic pain is mainly caused due to metastasis in the bone or post surgical pain from a surgical incision. The pain receptors of the body surface (cutaneous) or musculoskeletal tissues (deep tissues) are activated due to which pain is caused. When the pain occurs in the deep tissues it is called deep somatic pain that can be dull or aching, but localized. On the other hand surface somatic pain is usually sharper with burning or pricking sensation.
  2. Visceral pain – the body’s internal areas that are enclosed within a cavity are referred as ‘viscera’. Pancreatic cancer and metastasis in the abdomen are the common causes of visceral pain. It triggers with activation of pain receptors caused due to compression, infiltration, extension, stretching of abdominal, pelvic viscera or thoracic (chest) cavity. Visceral pain is generally deep squeezing, pressure like and not well localized.
  3. Neuropathic pain – any injury to the nervous system may trigger neuropathic pain. This can be a result of a large tumor that may put pressure on the nerves or spinal cord or actual cancer infiltrating the spinal cord or the nerves. Any chemical damage to the nerves caused due to cancer treatment (like chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery) may also trigger the pain. Neuropathic pain is usually severe and causes burning or tingling feeling in the nerves. A Cancer tumor causes more severe pain that is placed close to neural structures.

All the three types of pain can be either acute or chronic and can be felt singly at different times or all three can be felt at the same time.

  1. Acute pain can be easily observed or described and usually lasts for a short period of time for example increased heart rate or sweating. Acute pain can manifest to sub acute pain (increased intensity overtime) or intermittent pain that can last for several days.
  2. Chronic pain is the pain that last for more than three months. It cannot be easily described and is more of subjective type. To treat chronic pain is a great challenge for specialists and can change a person’s personality, ability to function and quality of life.

Generally somatic and visceral pain is experienced by most of the cancer patients and only around 15-20% of cancer patients complain neuropathic pain. There are different pain management therapies and different types of pain respond differently with all the therapies. To manage visceral pain and somatic pain is an easier task compared to neuropathic pain.


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