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rebbel's avatar

Is (suffering from) cancer painful?

Asked by rebbel (30709points) September 29th, 2011

My (former) neighbour, a thirthyish year old girl/woman, has breast cancer, and although we have had open, straightforward conversations about her being sick, treatment, impact on both mental and physical area, I have untill now not asked a very obvious in my view question:
Is it painful to have cancer?
I am asking specifically about physical pain.
Does anyone know what cancer does to a body?
Since I understand that having (had) cancer is very hard and a very private matter, I understand that one might not want to talk about it on a public website.
In that case and if you would not mind feel free to send me a PM with what you would answer.
Thanks in advance.

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23 Answers

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Yeah, it is. We lost my MIL to breast cancer. At the end, hospice was handing out the morphine like candy and we were giving her near lethal levels of it.

Hibernate's avatar

Sometimes the pain itself hurts while other times the treatment .. I do not like cancer and I’m glad I’m not suffering from it [yet].

linguaphile's avatar

Some are, some aren’t, and if varies by stages. As I understand it, and from no personal experience, stomach and pancreatic cancers are the most painful to die from (but I don’t think that minimizes any of the pain created by others!) During the first stage, most cancers seem to be asymptomatic or just create discomfort.

YoBob's avatar

It depends on the cancer. My mother passed away due to a recurrence of lymphatic cancer. While the treatment sometimes caused painful side effects, the cancer itself did not cause her pain.

JLeslie's avatar

Breast cancer itself might have little or no pain, but the treatments for the girl cancers really suck. The chemos tend to be very violent on the body, and radiation is irritating and painful from the burn, many times having blistering. Mastectomies have a very painful healing process, and reconstructive surgery has quite a bit of physical pain.

Not to mention the horrible psychological turmoil one goes through, but you seem interested in the physical pain. Why not ask her if it has been physically painful?

GladysMensch's avatar

My mother had an incredibly high pain threshold. She had bad reactions to most types of anesthesia, so she once had major dental work done without any. I have no idea how she did it. However, cancer was a whole different level of pain. She died from endocrine cancer; it moved from her pancreas to her lungs, and finally her bones. She ended up having a morphine pump implanted into her body which shot morphine directly into her spine. It was the only way to eliminate her pain.

Jude's avatar

My Mom had Ovarian Cancer. It was terribly painful for her.

She was in a hospital bed for the last month of her life. Unable to sit up. Just turning her, she would scream in pain. They had to give her meds prior to turning her. Near the end, at night, she would beg them not to turn her, and would grab my hand and tell me not to let go because she was afraid that they were going to hurt her (and she was afraid of dying through the night).

She had tubes to drain the fluid along side her lungs. And, the cancer was destroying her body. Yep, she was hurting.

lloydbird's avatar


Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I think what makes it so painful is it spreads out and attacks other parts of the body. My MIL waited two years to get treatment (no insurance). Don’t wait to seek treatment if you even are suspicious of something.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

It can be… but that is the problem really, so many suffer certain types of cancer for so long unaware because there are no distinguishable symptoms until it is far too late to treat them when they finally get out of control…

Then most change into becoming painful.

28lorelei's avatar

Cancer is when a mutation occurs in a cell that causes it to start multiplying extremely fast. The cells that result, though, never fully mature and thus are useless. They multiply and then move to other parts of the body after multiplying enough, and start multiplying elsewhere. For example, advanced melanoma (a kind of skin cancer) might cause immature skin cells to start multiplying in someone’s lungs. They treat cancer by chemo (which cancer cells are more sensitive to than normal cells, so basically they poison the cancer patient just enough to kill off the cancer cells) or radiation (shooting gamma rays at the tumor). Hopefully treatments will improve in the future, because they harm the patient.
And yes, it can be very painful.

majorrich's avatar

I had pain, but as a side effect of the cancer. I had (have) pheochromocytoma, which causes my blood pressure to spike. As a result I have had some 12 TIA’s, some of which were were quite painful.

fizzbanger's avatar

As said above, the treatments are the worst part.

I read an article in a recent Oprah magazine where one woman said a doctor told her that she was in remission, but since she was scared, she decided to get a double mastectomy anyway. It turned out there were more masses beginning to develop in the areas beneath her nipples. The cancer itself is slippery.

Also, one woman said that after having breast implants after a mastectomy, her chest permanently feels like she is wearing a tight, uncomfortable sports bra.

Judi's avatar

My mom had liver Cancer and there was almost no pain. Her doctor said that Liver Cancer is one of the only ones with very little pain in the end stages.

Bellatrix's avatar

Goodness, what an awfully sad thread. Very informative but sad. My mother died from stomach cancer (although for years I was told it was ovarian cancer). I was too young to know how painful it was or was not for her. Thank you to those who have shared their knowledge. It isn’t a question I have ever asked @rebbel but one I have unconsciously wondered about.

JilltheTooth's avatar

My cervical cancer was extremely painful. The tumor had completely engulfed the cervix and spread to the surrounding areas. Different forms of cancer have different pain indices, some much worse than others.
Please tell your friend I wish her a treatment that is the least invasive possible, the best of support from family, friends and the medical community, and a speedy path to a long healthy life. Urge her to be a member of the Survivors’ Club. Membership includes bragging rights and the license to tell very funny, bad-taste macabre jokes.

lillycoyote's avatar

It depends on the type of cancer, where it is and how far it has progressed, I believe.

This is a pretty good overview of why and how cancer can cause pain

Bone cancer is particularly painful and some cancers can metastasize to people’s bones, and if it does they will usually have pain.

My best friend’s mother mother had multiple myeloma, a particularly terrible type of bone cancer, and up there, I think, in the top ten “worst ways to die.” She suffered horribly at the end. When the disease has progressed far enough, sufferers basically can’t even move without breaking or fracturing a bone.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

From my experience as a pt navigator with cancer patients, head and neck cancers are bad as are lung+pancreatic cancers in terms of pain. Still, bodies are different and some people experience terrible pain, in general, from any cancer.

marinelife's avatar

At the end stages, any cancer is very painful.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

As many have pointed out in their stories, it depends upon the cancer type, how it is treated, and what the end result is. My grandmother succumed to breast cancer back in the early ‘60s, and she was in great pain. A co-worker was diagnosed with it about eight years ago, and she has survived the treatments with little pain from the treatment. She continues to live a healthy life, and of the last report, is cancer-free. This is why regular screening and immediate treatment is so important.

It sounds as if you are doing the right thing by continuing to be her friend and part of her support system. Just ask if it is okay to ask about her pain and her feelings.

All I know from dealing with people with cancer or any other debilitating disease is that they want to be treated as fighters and not put in the grave before they are willing to go there. Listen to their perspective, and fight the disease at their side. This is the best gift that you can offer.

faye's avatar

I was a nurse on a cancer unit and the only cancer I saw that wasn’t extremely painful was a brain cancer that robbed the man of knowing his family, his past and any problems. He passed away worry free because of what part of his brain his tumor affected.

Eureka's avatar

Being both a cancer survivor and a medical care giver to cancer patients, I can tell you that it is extremely painful.

Aster's avatar

Some cancers are much more painful than others. The treatments are often the cause of pain. Kidney cancer is not painful; just uncomfortable. The most pain comes when cancer spreads to the brain and spine causing excruciating back pain and headaches. My best friend’s breast cancer spread to her brain and having radiation to the brain did nothing for pain control. This is in opposition to what @faye reports and she knows more about it than I ever will. I assume all or most of the patients on her ward were receiving chemotherapy but they were still suffering.

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