Pain & Symptom Management

Patients have a variety of options for managing the pain and symptoms of mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma presents an array of painful and debilitating symptoms, especially in its later stages, and for many patients, their greatest fear is facing the symptoms of the disease as it progresses. Unfortunately, because mesothelioma is usually not diagnosed until its later stages, many victims are hit with difficult symptoms shortly after diagnosis.

If you’ve never had cancer or been close to someone who has had this or any type of cancer, you probably won’t know what to expect as the months pass. That’s why asking questions is so important. Knowing what you’ll be facing in the future may help to ease some of the stress associated with symptoms, the onset of treatment, and side effects of various treatments. Be sure your questions are answered to your satisfaction by your doctor and, if they’re not, feel free to turn elsewhere to have them answered.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family and friends as well, or consider making contact with other mesothelioma sufferers for emotional support, which might serve to ease some symptoms, particularly stress and anxiety related ones.

Managing Pain

All meso victims will – at one time or another – need to address the issue of pain management. Pain isn’t just an inevitable result of the disease, it can also be caused by common treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and various surgical procedures. Pain management may become one of the most important factors in dealing with the disease, especially in its latter stages.

What Causes Pain?

Technically speaking, pain is defined as a stimulus transmitted throughout the body by the central nervous system as a result of nerves detecting bodily damage. When damage occurs, an impulse is sent along nerve pathways to the brain, which interprets the impulses as pain.

But that medical jargon means little to someone who’s suffering. No matter what causes it, pain can severely compromise your daily life and cause you additional stress, anxiety, and frustration.

EatingWhen you hurt, you don’t want to eat. Eating properly, however, is important in fighting any disease, cancer included. Managing your pain means you’ll probably be better able to eat normally.
SleepingIt’s essential to have a good night’s sleep, especially when you’re in the middle of treatments like chemo or radiation. Pain inhibits sleep and the lack of sleep causes other reactions, such as anxiety or loss of appetite.
WorkIf you’re trying to maintain your job or work at home, consistent pain will interfere with that. This can cause a lot of anxiety, especially if you’re dependent on the income from your job.
Daily LifePain can make it difficult to do tasks around the house, such as cleaning or cooking. This can lead to consequences like poor diet, stress and anxiety.
TravelIf you’ve enjoyed leisure trips or visits to friends and family before your disease, you should understand that pain may make travel difficult.

Talking about Pain

It’s very important to be honest about pain and your need to manage it effectively. Doctors can only estimate the level of pain you’ll feel during a certain stage of the disease or after a particular surgery or treatment. Your doctor needs to know how you’re feeling and if prescribed pain medications are doing their job. Even if your tolerance for pain is high, the pain and discomfort caused by mesothelioma is different from the acute pain of a headache or injury, and you shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it with your physician.

The level of pain may change as the disease progresses, and you may feel pain in different places at different times. It’s often helpful to jot down some facts about your pain so that your oncologist knows what you’re facing. Some factors to consider might be:

  • The time of day when your pain is at its worst
  • Where the pain is located
  • The intensity of the pain
  • What causes the pain to increase or decrease
  • How often the pain occurs and how long it lasts (if pain is intermittent)
  • How the pain is affecting your lifestyle or essential everyday tasks
  • How much relief you’re receiving from your current method of pain medication

Prescribing Pain Relief

Doctors who treat mesothelioma are familiar with the course of the disease and the pain usually associated with it. They may suggest a host of different pain management drugs, from over-the-counter remedies to much stronger prescription varieties. You should try to be as informed as possible about medications. Feel free to ask:

What medications are available to help control the type of acute or chronic pain you’re experiencing
The most common side effects of each medicine
How much of this drug is too much and how long you should continue taking it
Whether pain medications will adversely interact with other drugs you might be taking

If your pain relievers make you feel disoriented or otherwise unable to function properly, ask if you can lower your dose or change pain medication. It’s normal to suffer such side effects with most opiate pain relievers.

Staying Comfortable

Pain is frightening, especially as mesothelioma progresses and the patient nears the end of his/her life. As a matter of fact, at that point, the patient may even be totally unable to share their need for pain medication.

All terminal mesothelioma patients should clearly communicate their end-of-life wishes with their medical team as well as family members or friends before reaching that point, when it may be too late. State your wishes succinctly and talk with your loved ones or caregiver about the importance of abiding by your wishes.

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    Sources & About the Writer [+]
    • 1 Dodson, R. and Hammar, S. Asbestos: Risk Assessment, Epidemiology, and Health Effects. Taylor & Francis: Boca Raton. 2006.
    • 2 Stahel RA,Weder W, Felip E; ESMO Guidelines Working Group. Malignant pleural mesothelioma: ESMO clinical recommendations for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Clinic and Policlinic of Oncology, University Hospital of Zurich, Switzerland. 2008.
    • 3 Pass, I., Vogelzang, N., Carbone, M. Malignant Mesothelioma: Advances in Pathogenesis, Diagnosis, and Transitional Therapies. Springer: New York. 2005.
    • 4 http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/malignantmesothelioma
    • 5 http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/mesothelioma.html
    • About The Writer Photo of Dan Heil Dan Heil

      Dan is a contributing writer for The Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center. He hopes to help educate on everything related to a mesothelioma diagnosis and answer any questions patients or family members may have.