6 Pain Relief Tips for Men With Advanced Prostate Cancer
When Prostate Cancer Spreads to the Bones
When prostate cancer metastasizes, it most often spreads to the bones, such as the spine, hips, and pelvis. Bone metastases can cause pain in these areas and weaken the bones, leaving men vulnerable to fractures from a fall or other accident. The fractures can cause pain directly, but the cancer can also put pressure on nerves, which in turn can cause more pain.
For example, if cancer spreads to the spine, the tumor compresses the nerves, which results in inflammation and irritation in the pain signals that reach your limbs. The causes symptoms like numbness, tingling, and pain.
Strategies to Relieve Pain
Pain from advanced prostate cancer can be chronic and may interfere with your ability to do the things you want or need to do. But there are steps you can take to control or relieve pain. Try these tips:
1. Follow your treatment plan.
Standard treatments used to prevent or slow the growth of prostate cancer may also help relieve symptoms such as pain. These include hormonal therapy (blocking testosterone, which can fuel tumor growth); chemotherapy, which directly attacks the tumor; and surgery. Additionally, there are treatments that can target bone metastases more specifically, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Options include drugs called bisphosphonates, which help strengthen bones and prevent fractures; external radiation therapy; ablation techniques; corticosteroids; and pain medications.
Men with advanced prostate cancer should stick closely to their treatment protocol, says Gilligan, because “we have abundant evidence that [the treatments] reduce pain.”
2. Take steps to reduce stress.
“How we experience pain is strongly influenced by our mental state,” says Gilligan. Work with family members and your spouse or partner to reduce stress — less stress may help reduce pain. While you can’t avoid stress completely, eating well, staying active, taking time to do activities you enjoy, and practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation can help keep your stress level in check.
3. Stay active.
Another proven way to reduce stress is through exercise. What’s more, regular exercise can also help strengthen bones, reducing the risk of fractures. If you’re already active, be sure to talk to your doctor about any exercise modifications you should make to avoid irritating areas where the cancer has metastasized — your doctor may recommend avoiding activities like lifting heavy weights, bending and twisting, and high-impact exercises. If you’re starting a new exercise program, be sure to check with your doctor before you begin, and start slowly — go for a short daily walk, for example, and gradually build from there. You can work with a personal trainer or physical therapist to develop an exercise plan that’s safe for you.
4. Get a massage.
Massage may help relieve stress and pain in people with cancer, according to the ACS. Just be sure to tell your massage therapist that you have prostate cancer, says Gilligan, because your bones might be weak. If you have a lot of cancer in your bones, the massage therapist should know, so he or she can adjust the strength of the massage technique accordingly. You may also want to get a doctor’s letter to assure your therapist that massage is safe for you.
5. Pay attention to aches and pains — especially in the bones.
When cancer weakens bones, they can become painful and it can hurt to stand up. If you experience such pain and difficulty, talk to your doctor about ways to prevent a fracture rather than waiting for one to happen. If some part of a bone has been damaged by tumors, a surgeon may be able to affix a rod to help strengthen it.
6. Work with a palliative care specialist to manage symptoms.
While your oncologist works with you to treat the cancer directly, palliative care specialists are doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who are trained to help you find ways to improve the symptoms you’re experiencing and boost your quality of life. These specialists focus on relieving pain, as well as helping you manage symptoms like nausea and diarrhea.
“You want aggressive [cancer] treatments,” says Gilligan, “but you don’t want side effects from those treatments. Studies have shown that people who receive palliative care have less severe symptoms, experience less pain, and have better overall quality of life than those who don’t. Palliative care specialists “work in conjunction with us,” says Gilligan, “but oncologists are slow to get them involved sometimes.” Be your own advocate and ask your doctor for a referral to a palliative care specialist.
It’s also important to be aware that palliative care is not the same as hospice, or “end of life,” care.
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