Improving Mesothelioma Pain Management Through Self-Care

Person Feeling Pain in Their Wrist

In April 2013, researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) plan to wrap up a clinical trial on pain management interventions for cancer patients.

In their preliminary research, the group found that psychoeducational interventions helped approximately 30 percent of adult cancer patients reduce their pain intensity by 30 percent or more. Based on this data, they predict that patients who receive the most frequent interventions will have the greatest decrease in pain intensity scores.

Even though we are still waiting for the researchers to publish the final results of the trial, we can still take away two key lessons:

  1. Patients can use self-care techniques to proactively manage their pain.
  2. Knowledge and education, skills training and pain management coaching can give mesothelioma patients the tools they need to get involved in with self-care.

The study was based on a behavioral modification plan – a concept that is by no means new to the world of cancer treatment. Studies repeatedly show that there is a strong link between a cancer patient’s mood or anxiety level and their amount of cancer pain. By learning to manage these controllable factors, patients can indirectly manage their physical discomfort.

There is also a link between a patient’s ability to control their pain and the actual level of pain they experience. Patients who are more confident in their abilities tend to have a lower pain level, as well as increased positive psychological well-being.

Self-Care Interventions

Many hospitals, cancer centers and independent practitioners offer cognitive-behavioral interventions for pain management. These interventions often focus on the same three tenets of the UCSF clinical trial:

  • Education – Patients first learn how to identify their pain; therapists then help patients learn how their emotional response impacts their physical perception of the pain.
  • Coping skills – This tenant helps patients learn healthy coping mechanisms for their physical pain. Therapists commonly use relaxation or distraction techniques, or hypnosis. Patients may also learn physical techniques they can perform on their own – such as reflexology.
  • Coaching or training – Patients practice their coping mechanisms with the assistance of their coach. First, they apply their methods in painless situations. Once they feel confident in their abilities, they apply them during a painful episode.

Over time, these interventions help patients learn how to stay in control of their emotions (and physical condition) during bouts of cancer pain. This method is just one way that mesothelioma patients can choose to control their disease – rather than let their disease control them.

Safety in Self-Care

It is important for patients to remember that self-care is not a substitute for professional medical attention. Even in the UCSF study, where there was a heavy emphasis on patient involvement, participants worked with specially trained oncology nurses. Responsible self-care involves being knowledgeable enough to know when to ask for help.

If you do decide to explore self-led pain management, make sure that your doctor is both on board and kept up-to-date on your pain level and management techniques. If you experience an abnormal level of pain (or any other atypical symptom) at any time, do not hesitate to seek help from a medical professional.

What do you think about self-care? Would you try it? Have you tried it already? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook.


After graduating with an English degree from Southeastern University in 2010, Faith Franz came on board as a health and wellness writer for The Mesothelioma Center.

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