Despite the advancements in the treatment of cancer, a major problem that persists is the phenomenon called breakthrough cancer pain. Patients who have been diagnosed with cancer sometimes experience this at the onset of the disease, while others mostly experience it at the advanced stages. Although prevalent with all types of cancer, it is more common in patients suffering from cancers in the upper body.

Breakthrough cancer pain is characterized by sudden, intense episodes of pain that may be temporary but frequent and not responsive to standard pain management options. It is different from the constant pain cancer patients go through, as this is usually controlled in treatment plans. This pain is often uncontrollable and can manifest unpredictably, such that it may take patients by surprise. The intensity of this pain is so significant that it affects the quality of life, daily activities, relationships, and mental health of patients. It can manifest as sporadic pain, which is the most common type of breakthrough cancer pain. Patients often notice that the pain sets in after activities that require muscle or bone movements, such as standing, coughing, or excretion. The pain may also be spontaneous, with more than three flare-ups daily. It is also not uncommon for breakthrough pain to occur after cancer treatments are concluded.

Treatment of Breakthrough Cancer Pain

Patients who suffer from breakthrough cancer pain have difficulty going through life. The pain affects routine activities and mood and will most likely impact the emotional reactivity of the sufferer. As such, the treatment of this pain must be prioritized and not seen as secondary.

Comprehensive cancer pain management plans must be present to help a patient effectively. Such a plan would usually include a separate dose of pain relief aside from the medications prescribed to help combat the background pain.

The contributing factors to breakthrough pain are different for each person; as such, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to it. Pain management plans will have to be tailored to individuals. Treatment options are not numerous but need to be carefully considered. The type of pain, severity, duration and underlying cause will be factored in the treatment choice. It is not advisable that patients self-medicate as the interaction of specific pain medication with treatment is not entirely ascertained. Other factors, including the progression of the disease, the patient’s age, and their choice must also come to play.

A pain specialist can work with patients to find immediate and long-term management plans. Treatment may include

Nerve Blocks and Nerve Damage

These treatment plans act to block the pain pathways through surgery. The pain levels and nerves responsible for transmitting pain signals will first be identified and removed. This is generally effective but has to be carried out by a specialist.


The primary and most effective drug for addressing breakthrough cancer pain is opioids. They may be administered as injections or orally alongside doses of morphine. The combination of both is usually able to relieve pain.

Gene and Cell Therapy

Gene therapy works by repressing the genes involved in sensing pain and can help lower a patient’s sensitivity to pain, thereby providing relief that can last for months. Cell therapy introduces cells secreting analgesics which will help improve a patient’s pain threshold.

Lakeshore Pain and Spine Center provides patients with individualized treatment plans for managing most types of chronic pain. Schedule an appointment today.