For patients battling cancer, pain can occur as a result of the disease itself (perhaps by a tumor pressing on nerves or body organs, or when cancer cells invade bones or organs) or can be a direct result of a specific treatment (whether that takes the form of chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery). Approximately 30% to 50% of people with cancer experience pain while undergoing treatment, with 70% to 90% of people in advanced stages of cancer experiencing pain. (See Lesage P. and Portenoy RK. Cancer Control; Journal of the Moffitt Cancer Center 1999;6(2): pages 136-145). Even those who have been cured of their cancer can continue to suffer from various forms of pain.
The amount of pain present will depend on a number of factors, including the type of cancer involved, the stage or extent of the disease, and the patient's pain threshold (which is to say, their tolerance for pain). Pain can range from mild and occasional to severe and constant. The ways in which pain is addressed also varies, and can include pain relief medications (called analgesics), non-drug treatments (such as physical therapy and rehabilitation), and various imagery / biofeedback / relaxation techniques. Other treatment include nerve blocks (which involve the injection of pain medication into or around a nerve) or neurosurgery (a procedure in which pain nerves are cut in order to alleviate pain).
Palliative care involves treatments given to relieve symptoms caused by diseases, including cancer. Palliative care deals with problems including pain, nausea, loss of appetite, depression, and fatigue. A wide range of issues are addressed, including those of a physical, emotional, and spiritual nature. In palliative care, the goal is to provide the best quality of life possible, and can be used when a person is getting treatment for a disease as well as when there is no useful treatment for the disease. One important component to this care is management of a patient's pain.
One form of palliative care is hospice care, which focuses on end-of-life issues. However, one should not confuse hospice and palliative care. Hospice care is about seeing to one's having a good death, where the broader palliative care is about ensuring one enjoys the best quality of life while dealing with a serious illness, whether that illness is terminal or not.