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Together is a new resource for anyone affected by pediatric cancer - patients and their parents, family members, and friends.

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Pain Management

If your child has a serious illness, then they may experience some level of pain. But there are ways to reduce or, in some cases, prevent pain. 

Pain management team

Doctors and nurses regularly treat pain. But some cases require special attention. That is when the pain management team may become involved.  A pain management team may include:

Female child cancer patient interacts with nurse with teddy bear in background

Understanding your child's pain is important in developing the best pain treatment plan.

Causes of pain

Pain has many causes. Your are team will work with you to determine:

  • What is causing the pain
  • The intensity of the pain
  • How the pain affects your child’s ability to perform everyday tasks

Then the team will work with you on a plan to help manage your child's pain.

Pain can either be acute or chronic. Acute pain comes on quickly. It alerts the body that something happened that needs attention. In general, acute pain is tissue-related or nerve-related.
Tissue-related pain is also called nociceptive or visceral pain. Damage to tissues, organs, or bones can cause it. It usually feels like an ache, sharp stabbing, or throbbing. It may come and go or be constant.

Pain caused by nerve injury is neuropathic pain. Some chemotherapy drugs, in particular vincristine, can cause this type of pain. It may feel like shooting or burning pain or tingling. It can go away on its own. But it is often chronic.

Chronic pain is commonly defined as pain that lasts more than 12 weeks.

How pain is diagnosed

The causes of pain can be complicated. When the care team determines the causes of pain, they consider:

  • Biological factors — The illness itself or side effects of treatment
  • Psychological factors — Depression, anxiety, stress, anger, worry, or focusing on the pain
  • Social factors — Family tensions, lack of support, disengagement from hobbies and favorite activities, and changes in friendships

The care team will also consider the intensity of pain and how much it affects your child’s ability to perform everyday tasks.

Your child may be asked to rate their pain on a scale of 0-10. Your child will have a functional assessment to determine how much pain affects their daily life.

Pain treatment

Treatment may include:

It is important for you to tell the medical team when your child is in pain. The ultimate goals of any pain management plan are comfort, function, and overall quality of life.

You can help your child cope with pain. But be sure to care for yourself, too. Seeing your child in pain can be stressful. Your care team can help you with coping skills.

Key points about pain management

  • Pain is common in children living with a serious illness.
  • Your child may have a pain management team. They will help you with a plan for pain relief.
  • A pain treatment plan will consider several areas of your child’s life to develop pain management strategies.
  • Pain management may include pain medicines and non-medication strategies. 
  • If your child is in pain, let your care team know.

Reviewed: October 2022