Understanding Mesothelioma-Related Pain

Pain management

Most cancer patients experience symptoms of pain.

During my father’s experience with mesothelioma, dealing with pain became a part of his daily routine. He had some reservations regarding pain medications because of side effects.

By addressing these concerns with his oncology team, they were able to help Dad understand the risks and benefits of taking pain medicine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, it can be difficult for health care professionals to assess and treat chronic pain.

It might be helpful for patients to understand the types of pain from mesothelioma they experience so they can address their concerns with their doctors.

Multiple types of pain medications are available that can manage a range of symptoms. Patients should explore all available options with their oncology teams to create individualized pain management plans.

Types of Pain from Mesothelioma

When Dad had mesothelioma, I had no idea the range of pain he experienced.

Understanding the types of pain involved with cancer can help patients better understand the need for different kinds of medications.

The American Cancer Society publishes information that clarifies the pain some patients experience.

Types of pain include:

    • Acute: This type of pain is severe and can create distress. Acute pain usually lasts for a short period of time.
    • Chronic: Chronic pain lasts longer than three months. The ranges of chronic pain include mild, moderate and severe. Although chronic pain doesn’t improve on its own, doctors can prescribe medications to control it.
    • Breakthrough: Patients who experience chronic pain may also feel short episodes of intense pain, even when their chronic pain is well-managed.

What Causes the Pain?

An article published in Oxford Academic’s Annals of Oncology reports about 20 percent of cancer pain stems from chemotherapy and related cancer treatments.

Cancer itself is responsible for around 80 percent of pain. Cancer causes tumor growth that may contribute to pain in bones, nerves and organs.

Surgical procedures, chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments can create discomfort. Some chemotherapy drugs cause painful sores in the throat and mouth.

Radiation can cause painful side effects, including internal and external burns and scarring. Healing after surgery is usually a painful process.

Treating Cancer Pain with Opioids

While there is a broad range of medications and approaches to treating cancer pain, many oncology teams prescribe opioids as a part of pain management.

The American Cancer Society publishes useful information that helps people understand more about treating cancer pain using opioid medications.

Opioids are narcotic pain medications prescribed by doctors. Oncologists sometimes combine opioids with other types of medications and treatments to manage pain.

During his cancer treatment, my dad used several different opioid medications. Opioids work to manage pain by reducing the communication of pain messages from the body to the brain.

Some opioid medications include:

    • Hydrocodone
    • Morphine
    • Oxycodone
    • Fentanyl

It is always important to discuss all of your medications with your oncology team because some drugs can interact and cause adverse reactions.

Different Forms of Pain Medications

Doctors can help patients decide which medications will best treat your cancer pain.

Depending on the patient’s individual experience of pain, there are numerous types of opioid pain medications:

    • Oral Medications: Many patients get relief from pain by taking medications in pill form. This type of medication may come in extended-release (ER) forms that can provide longer lasting relief.
    • Liquid Medications, Lozenges and Sprays: Patients who experience oral complications from cancer treatment may not be able to swallow a pill. There are medications in liquid form, lozenges and sprays that may be easier to tolerate.
    • Suppositories: This type of medication is dissolved in the rectum. Suppositories can be a good alternative for patients who struggle with oral medications.
    • Injections: Patients who experience severe pain may find relief through injections. Some injections are administered through a port, IV or syringe.
    • Pumps: Doctors can insert a small tube into the body that is connected to a device controlled by the patient. When the patient presses a button, pre-measured doses of medication can be delivered directly into the body.

Side Effects of Opioid Medications

My dad’s biggest reservation about taking pain medicine was the side effects.

He worried about being sleepy all the time and having digestive problems. He talked to his doctors about his concerns and decided the relief from pain outweighed his risk of side effects.

Some side effects of opioids include:

    • Drowsiness: Some opioid medications can make patients feel sleepy. People usually adjust to the medications and don’t feel as tired after they take their medicine for a while.
    • Constipation: Many patients who take pain medicine experience constipation. Doctors can manage digestive problems, such as constipation, by adding more fiber to a patient’s diet or suggesting a stool softener or laxative.
    • Nausea: Patients may experience feelings of nausea associated with their medicine. It may help to take the medication while laying down and staying in bed until the bloodstream absorbs the medicine.

Dealing with pain is an important part of cancer treatment. It is helpful for patients and caregivers to understand their pain and different approaches to managing it.

Patients can consult with their oncology team to weigh the pros and cons of the various types of medications to find the best fit.

In the beginning, Dad didn’t understand the pain he experienced. He didn’t know how to describe it to his doctor, or what kind of medications might help. His oncology team helped him identify his personal experience of pain and explore pain management options.

Patients are entitled relief from pain, and understanding the experience might be the first step toward relief.


Melanie is currently pursuing a Master's degree at the University of the Cumberlands. She has a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of Phoenix. Her father was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1992. She is dedicated to writing about her unique experience with the rare disease.

  1. The American Cancer Society. (2015, September, 23). Facts About Cancer Pain. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/pain/facts-about-cancer-pain.html
  2. The American Cancer Society. (2016, May 12). Opioid Pain Medicines for Cancer Pain. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/pain/opioid-pain-medicines-for-cancer-pain.html
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, March 18). CDC Guideline For Prescribing Opioids For Chronic Pain — United States, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/rr/rr6501e1.htm
  4. Maltoni, M. (2008, January 1). Opioids, pain, and fear. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/annonc/article/19/1/5/181219/Opioids-pain-and-fear

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