Cancer Pain


Why Cancer Pain?

For the more than 10 million people worldwide who are diagnosed with some form of cancer each year, pain associated with their condition is a serious concern. Although pain is not necessarily inevitable for everyone with cancer, it is common. Approximately one-third of adults who are actively receiving treatment for cancer and two-thirds of those with advanced malignant disease experience pain. Children with cancer have similar pain experiences. While increasing numbers of medical professionals and governments are beginning to place more attention on the pain suffered by long-term survivors of cancer, much more research is needed.

The consequences of unrelieved cancer pain are devastating and can include functional impairment, immobility, social isolation, and emotional and spiritual distress. In some cases, cancer pain that is not managed can lead to the cessation of potentially curative therapies, ultimately having a negative impact on the patient’s survival. Cancer patients express greater fear of dying in pain (i.e., suffering) than dying. Family and friends also suffer as they witness the pain and anguish experienced by a loved one with cancer.

Every country, community, and family in the world is affected by cancer and its related pain. Focusing on a central theme of “Raising Awareness ▪ Improving Treatment ▪ Growing Support,” this yearlong campaign aimed to foster greater understanding of the serious pain cancer patients often confront and, ultimately, provide more effective and accessible treatment options to minimize pain and suffering.

Cancer Pain Issues

Barriers to effective pain treatment

Although many types of cancer can be diagnosed and treated early, and more patients are being cured every year, statistics show that far too many cancer patients experience cancer-related pain. There are several reasons behind this problem. Most notably, patients are often denied sufficient pain medication due to opiophobia (fear of opioids) among doctors, nurses, patients, and family members. Governmental restrictions on pain medication, as well as patients’ financial limitations, can also affect an individual’s access to effective pain medications, including opioids.

In addition, as increasing numbers of cancer patients survive, a variety of treatment-related chronic pain issues has surfaced, including:

  • Post-surgery pain
  • Chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain
  • Anti-estrogen therapy-related musculoskeletal pain
  • Radiotherapy-induced pain

Factors affecting cancer pain

For many patients around the world, cancer remains a terrifying disease that often produces uncertainties and losses not only for the patient, but for his or her loved ones as well. We know that several factors can directly impact the ability to control a patient’s pain, such as:

  • Emotions, including anxiety and depression
  • Cognition, such as a person’s confidence in his or her ability to cope with pain, pain catastrophizing, and hopelessness
  • Social context, including the support a patient receives from his or her partner or family

These factors, along with the physical, tissue, and nerve-injury-related components of pain, are all core contributors to cancer pain. Once we gain a better understanding of the neurophysiological basis of how psychosocial processes modulate pain, we will be better positioned to treat and manage the pain more effectively. Moreover, this enhanced understanding will enable us to identify psychosocial interventions that can further reduce the pain and suffering associated with cancer pain.

Resources & Materials

IASP is pleased to offer a number of resources related to the topic of cancer pain.

Go to fact sheets

Go to resources