Pancreatic cancer often is painless as the tumor grows, but once symptoms present, pain in the abdomen or back is a key symptom. Pain often occurs in the upper abdomen and radiates to the back, but even if it comes and goes at first, your health care provider can develop a treatment plan to help control the pain. The sooner you receive treatment for back pain symptoms related to pancreatic cancer, the better the outcome for pain management.
Pain medications work better if you take them on a regular basis and not only when the pain is severe. Your doctor or pain specialist may prescribe morphine or other opiods to control severe, ongoing pain. While opiods are narcotic drugs, there is little risk of becoming psychologically addicted if you take the medications as directed by your doctor. But the drugs can cause side effects, such as constipation, nausea, and sleepiness, which usually improve over time.
Health care providers often prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants, or anticonvulsant drugs along with narcotic painkillers to help relieve nerve pain that can occur when a growing tumor puts pressure on nerves. Your doctor also may prescribe medications to treat anxiety and help you sleep.
A nerve block is another option your doctor may suggest to treat pain if medication does little to alleviate the pain, or if you don't want to rely heavily on painkilling drugs, such as opiods, to control severe pain. The procedure involves injecting alcohol into nerves near the pancreas.
Nerve blocks help relieve chronic pain by numbing nerves and interrupting the pain signals those nerves send to the brain. During the procedure, the doctor injects alcohol or other medication into the celiac plexus – a web of nerves located at the back of the abdomen that carry pain signals to the brain – via a needle inserted through the skin or an endoscope that passes down your throat to your upper digestive tract.
If you are suffering chronic upper abdominal pain due to pancreatic cancer, your doctor may recommend a splanchnic nerve block to help relive the pain. These nerves, which are located on either side of your spine, relay pain signals from your abdomen to your brain. A splanchnic nerve block may help if the cancer is putting pressure on the nerves, causing pain.
Chemotherapy or radiation therapy to treat your pancreatic cancer can help relieve pain by shrinking the size of the tumor. This helps ease pressure the cancer may be putting on nerves or organs in your abdomen, thereby reducing pain.