Pain and Cancer

What is pain?

Pain is a personal experience that is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or possible tissue damage. It’s the way our nervous system signals actual or potential danger to us. It usually compels us to act in a way to keep our body or specific body parts safe by taking action and changing what we are doing that may be causing the danger signal (pain).


Why do I have cancer pain?

Not everyone that has cancer experiences pain. One in three people diagnosed with cancer usually experience pain, but it occurs more commonly in certain groups of people such as those with advanced cancer, elderly people, and people with breast cancer. Pain can occur before treatment, during treatment or after treatment.

People with cancer can experience pain for a variety of reasons.


Why do I have pain despite my cancer being cured or being in remission?

The short answer is: Your body continues to signal that there is danger to your body that is either due to tissue damage or impending tissue damage. Often this is despite the healing already having occurred that set off the pain in the first instance. Usually the pain continues despite there not being a real threat present.

The full answer is more complicated as this involves understanding why your nervous system continues to react in this way. The reason is usually different from person to person. It does not mean that you are making up your pain or that your pain is not real. Pain remains a personal experience that is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or possible tissue damage, no matter how long it has been present for.

Below is a video that explains a little more about ‘why things hurt’

Often people have pain before they are diagnosed with cancer and this drives them to see their doctor in the first place. The experience of pain prior to and during cancer treatment often influences your expectations about what pain means regarding your cancer and it’s status of being cured. The meaning of your pain to you is worth exploring as part of understanding your ongoing pain.


Dr Alette Bader is a Specialist Pain Medicine Physician who consults from Lift Cancer Care Services.

Dr Bader is experienced in the areas of cancer pain, chronic pain and acute pain. She is passionate about improving pain control and maximising quality of life for those who have otherwise been unsuccessful in pain management.


Lauren Whiting