Is Chemotherapy Painful? Know The Answer

Cancer care hospital in Bangalore

With the growing prevalence of cancer, the demand for chemotherapy continues to surge globally as it remains one of the most effective procedures for treating various types of cancer. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer is the primary cause of death across the globe. Moreover, the disease accounted for around 10 million deaths worldwide in 2020. In India, one out of every 10,000 men is diagnosed with prostate cancer as per Dr. Ramakrishna Vangara, consultant-radiation oncologist, Manipal Hospitals, Vijayawada.

Chemotherapy involves the utilization of drugs/medications for treating cancer. These drugs mainly target the rapidly-multiplying cancer cells to either slow down their growth or destroy cancer completely. Furthermore, this procedure is highly effective in destroying cancer cells that cannot be removed through radiation or surgery. However, it is generally accompanied by common side effects, such as fatigue and pain, which are sometimes experienced by patients during or after the delivery of chemotherapy. To know more about chemotherapy, visit our cancer care hospital in Bangalore.

When Does Pain Occur during Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy can be administered to a person in multiple ways, such as:

  • Intravenous (IV)

Chemotherapy drugs are administered to the patient intravenously by a healthcare practitioner. 

  • Oral

The patient swallows the chemotherapy drug, which is either in the form of liquids or pills.

  • Topical

The drug is directly applied on the patient’s skin as a cream.

  • Injection

The drug is injected into a muscle located under the skin in the space between multiple tissues that cover the spinal cord and brain (intrathecal), in a site that contains various organs (intraperitoneal) or into an artery (intra-arterial).

While routes, such as oral and topical, are generally painless, a patient may experience some pain or discomfort at the site of injection when injection or IV routes are taken. Muscle pain or myalgia is usually experienced by patients in the injected muscle. Moreover, some chemotherapy drugs can cause leg cramps, which are basically painful contractions of the foot, leg or muscles of the ankles. In some rare cases, extravasation can occur, which is an accidental complication that involves the leakage of chemotherapy drugs out of a blood vessel and into surrounding tissues. 

This usually occurs because of errors made by the healthcare practitioner while administering the chemotherapy drug or due to the medication’s properties. Chemotherapy extravasation usually leads to swelling and acute burning pain at the site of injection. 

When Does Pain Occur After Chemotherapy?

Some patients may experience pain after chemotherapy, which can occur in multiple ways:

  • Headache

Some chemotherapy drugs, such as the drugs used for treating breast cancer, can cause sharp, throbbing, dull or steady pain in the head.

  • Oral Pain

Apart from targeting the rapidly-multiplying cancer cells, chemotherapy drugs also target the healthy, fast-growing cells, such as the cells of the mouth, intestines and hair follicles. Thus, chemotherapy may cause swelling or pain in the mouth (oral mucositis). Additionally, it can also lead to sores and ulcers in the mouth, which can be quite painful. 

  • Abdominal Pain

As chemotherapy drugs target the lining of the intestines, abdominal pain and cramps are often experienced by patients after the procedure. 

  • Peripheral Neuropathy

Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is another type of pain that may occur after chemotherapy. It generally occurs due to the damage caused to the peripheral nerves, which are located outside the spinal cord and brain. It is a common side effect of chemotherapy drugs. A person with CIPN may experience the below-mentioned symptoms in their feet or hands:

  • Burning Sensation

  • Tingling

  • Pain

  • Numbness

  • Weakness

  • Inability to feel cold or hot sensations

  • Cramps in legs/feet

  • Bone/Joint pain

Methotrexate, ixabepilone, albumin-bound or nab-paclitaxel, docetaxel and other chemotherapy drugs prescribed by doctors for treating breast cancer can cause pain in the joints or bones. The pain can be mild discomfort that only lasts for a short period of time and goes away without any treatment or severe pain that requires the administration of medications. Consult with our cancer care specialists in Bangalore.

While most types of pain (during and after chemotherapy) can be managed and cured with medications, acupressure and acupuncture, massage therapy, yoga and physiotherapy, it is still necessary to consult a doctor, especially if the:

  • Pain is not going away with pain medications

  • Pain comes on quickly

  • The intensity of the pain continues to rise and it becomes difficult to sleep, eat or perform routine activities

Department of Cancer Care

Manipal Hospitals

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