What You Need to Know About Proper Management of Upper Back Pain From Cancer

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Upper back pain is generally a common symptom that usually provides insight into your current body condition. Cancer patients currently undergoing radiation therapy cancer treatment such as chemotherapy can have upper back pain either as a side effect of the treatment or as an indication that cancer has metastasized into the spine. In this case, proper management is required alongside cancer treatments.

So how is upper back pain managed when you have cancer? The management of upper back pain depends on what may be causing it – the spread of cancer or the treatment itself. It’s essential to have a thorough review of the important aspects of the current medical condition of a patient such as the types of medication they’re taking, their medical history, and overall cancer treatment plan to ensure the effectiveness of the upper back pain treatment.

Upper Back Pain and Cancer: When and How It Occurs

Upper back pain is common, and millions of people experience it at least once in their lifetime. It’s not always something that should be a cause of concern because it’s commonly related to tissue damage due to injury, but in some cases, it can be a sign of a detrimental medical condition such as cancer.

Despite the diagnosis of upper back pain in cancer patients, most people usually ignore back pain because they assume that because upper back pain normally occurs as a complication or a side effect, then this should simply be accepted without any resolution. Whether it’s normal or unusual, upper back pain when a patient has cancer is a concern that requires immediate medical attention, especially if it’s worsening.

Cancer itself can cause pain in the affected area, and such referred pain can be felt in the upper back. Additionally, upper back pain usually occurs as a side effect of chemotherapy in the body. Chemotherapy is a kind of hormone therapy or steroid medication, which can affect the quality of the bones because it causes bone thinning. Consequently, when cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the spinal canal, it can result in upper back pain. 

Does Upper Back Pain Mean Cancer

Upper back pain doesn’t automatically entail cancer. In fact, it’s rare for upper back pain to indicate a cancer type. Although when you have cancer, or are undergoing cancer treatment, you can feel the different kinds of cancer-related upper back pain which can be:

  • Mechanical pain. Cancer cells can damage the spine structures, causing it to become unstable and painful. Because of the damage, it shouldn’t be regarded as a normal side effect of the disease or the treatment. If ignored, it can result in pain which worsens over time as the patient gets up and moves around.
  • Inflammatory pain. Cancer cells release molecules that can induce irritation, which can lead to inflammation and pain. In this situation, long-lasting cancer pain relief can only be achieved through disease control if the cancer tumor itself is treated.
  • Radicular pain. Cancer cells can also cause nerve pain when the tumor pushes on a nerve in the spinal area or spinal column. This typically feels like an electric shock that goes down on the limb. Cancer pain that’s radicular can be relieved if the cancer tumor is treated to avoid it from further compressing the nerve and causing pain in the process.

What Cancers Are Associated With Upper Back Pain

Upper back pain from cancer requires due treatment. But before that, knowing what causes the upper back pain when you have cancer is important. Other than the condition itself and the treatment for it, upper back pain from cancer is also usually caused by the metastasis of the tumor in the spinal area. This usually happens in different kinds of cancers such as but not limited to, the following:

  • Lung cancer
  • Spinal cancer
  • Bone marrow cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Testicular cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Brain tumor

1) Upper Back Pain Lung Cancer

At least 25% of lung cancer patients report back pain as a symptom because of the pressure that the tumor (e.g, Pancoast tumor) in the lungs puts on the spine. This pressure affects the nerves around the chest wall and the spine, which can cause upper back pain. 

To obtain a full perception of upper back pain when lung cancer patients have a lung cancer symptom, a healthcare provider may opt to run some tests to administer more effective treatments for pain associated with this cancer type. Such tests done on lung cancer patients may include:

  • Blood test for calcium levels
  • CT Scan
  • MRI scan
  • X-ray
  • PET scan

2) Upper Back Pain From Spinal Cancer

Spinal tumors (i.e, vertebral tumors) involve abnormal growth of cells located in the spinal cord or spinal canal. Whether it’s a cancerous or benign tumor, a spinal tumor in the spinal column may cause pain. The pain experienced when spinal cancer patients have a spinal cord tumor may start gradually, which may worsen over time. 

This kind of severe pain associated with spinal cord tumors is a common symptom that wouldn’t improve by simply resting or even simple pain medication. A spinal tumor requires proper and professional treatment schemes for disease control and pain management for the effective elimination of cancer pain.

3) Upper Back Pain From Cancers of the Marrow

The bone marrow is a spongy tissue that’s located at the center of some bones, which is responsible for the production of the body’s blood cells in the blood vessel system. When there are cancer cells in the bone marrow, this can affect several areas of the body including the spine and the ribs, such a condition is known as multiple myeloma because of the multiple areas of the body that it can affect.

Bone pain, which can lead to upper back pain is one symptom of multiple myeloma which affects the bones. This kind of bone pain caused by a vertebral tumor is usually characterized as a persistent dull ache, which may worsen with movement.

Pain Management Practices for Upper Back Associated With Cancer at Gramercy Pain Center

Pain from cancer usually requires the treatment of the condition itself. But not because upper back pain from cancer is a normal side effect of radiation therapy or a manifestation of metastatic tumors automatically means that it shouldn’t be a cause for concern or pain management treatment. Pain management is essential that even basic home remedies and physical therapy will do.

Pain management is important to improve one’s well-being and enhance the quality of recovery. But it’s essential to seek the services of a qualified pain specialist for this. The following are the pain treatment options at Gramercy Pain Center:

  • Cortisone Shots. The simplest way to achieve pain relief is through cortisone injections, which can also work to reduce inflammation that occurs in areas of the body.
  • Radiofrequency Neurotomy. This method involves radiofrequency ablation to eliminate the pain signals in multiple locations within a single treatment session. This is a form of heat therapy that can only be considered after a thorough evaluation of a patient’s medical history, and once the other choices considered such as pain medication and physical therapy won’t work to reduce the pain.
  • Implanted Nerve Stimulators. Dorsal root ganglion-implanted nerve stimulators are placed into the spinal cord to relieve chronic pain. This involves 2 components of stimulation devices such as the pulse generator and the generator leads. The pulse generator is implanted in the abdomen or the buttocks, while the generator leads are implanted into the target area to alter pain signals using electrical pulses to control the way that the brain processes the pain. Again, this is only applicable when other options (e.g, physical therapy) are deemed ineffective and severe pain is still experienced.

Relieve Upper Back Pain With Treatments at Gramercy Pain Center

Cancer-related back pain is rare, but anyone experiencing changes or anything that’s a cause of concern (e.g, chronic pain, severe cancer pain) should consult with their doctor. Most of the time, upper back pain from a certain cancer type is relieved only through disease control, but  you can opt to relieve yourself from it even temporarily to improve your cancer pain during treatment. For best results, only seek the services of a pain specialist.

To get the best care for upper back pain as patients undergo cancer treatment, consult with a pain specialist. For the best pain management techniques and personalized pain treatment plans, our pain doctors and spine specialists at Gramercy Pain Center can help you identify upper back pain and low back pain from its root and help you receive the necessary care and pain remedy that complements your treatment plan for cancer.

Consult with Dr. Varma or Dr. Valimahomed for different types of body pain like upper back pain, bone pain, lower back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, and chest pain, and start your journey to faster pain recovery today.

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