Chronic Pain after Childhood Cancer


Many people have pain during cancer treatment, either from the cancer itself or from the treatment. For most people, the pain stops after treatment ends. But for some people the pain persists. For cancer survivors, long-term pain may occur for a number of reasons including damage to the bones, joints, or nerves from treatment with radiation, surgery, certain chemotherapy drugs, or corticosteroids.

What is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is pain that lasts after the illness or injury that caused it has resolved. It may continue after an injury has healed due to changes in the way the body sends and receives pain signals.

Chronic pain differs from acute pain, which is usually short-lived and has the biologic purpose of telling us that we are hurt or ill and need to protect ourselves.

What Factors Affect Pain?

Pain is affected by many physical, emotional, and cognitive factors that are unique to each person. As a result, everyone perceives pain differently. Some people seem to be very sensitive to pain whereas others may report little pain when in the same situation.

Factors such as age, sex, developmental level, family and cultural traditions, prior pain experience, work environment, and circumstances surrounding the injury also affect how you might interpret, experience, and cope with pain.

How Might Chronic Pain Affect Me?

Some people may become depressed if they don’t have healthy ways to cope with ongoing pain. They may feel frustrated and angry, especially if pain is keeping them for doing the things they used to enjoy.

When people feel that pain controls their lives, they may begin to feel powerless, develop low self-esteem, and stop taking on challenges and opportunities for growth. You might stop moving around and doing physical activities for fear of triggering pain or making it worse. But the less active you are, the weaker your muscles become, which can worsen pain. 

Some may withdraw from social activities to avoid dealing with pain in public. Depression, anxiety, and chronic stress may follow, which can also make pain worse.

What If I Have Chronic Pain?

The good news is that there are ways to manage and cope with chronic pain. It can be treated with medicine, behavioral treatment, or both.

Training in pain-coping skills can help boost self-confidence and reduce distress from pain. Changes in how a person copes with pain and what they think about their pain may also produce positive changes in behavior, such as:

  • increased exercise,
  • improved pacing of activities,
  • better adherence to medicine, and
  • increased participation in social activities. 

Other techniques that can help treat and cope with pain include:

  • relaxation,
  • meditation,
  • guided imagery,
  • distraction,
  • redirected thinking, and
  • changing thoughts and beliefs about pain and what it means.

Other effective approaches include support groups, massage, music, and counseling focused on pain management and behavioral modification.

Where Can I Learn More about Chronic Pain?

You can find more information about chronic pain from these organization's websites:

Childhood Cancer

Medical Information

Research

Coping with Cancer

Get Involved

About Us