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Pain (PDQ®)

Patient Version
Last Modified: 04/10/2014

Assessment of Pain



You and your healthcare team work together to assess cancer pain.

It's important that the cause of the pain is found and treated quickly. The first step in controlling pain is to assess and measure it. Your healthcare team will help you measure pain levels often, including at the following times:

  • After starting cancer treatment.
  • When there is any new pain.
  • After starting any type of pain treatment.
  • During pain treatment.

To learn about your pain, the healthcare team will ask you to describe the pain with the following questions:

  • When did the pain start?
  • How long does the pain last?
  • Where is the pain? You will be asked to show exactly where the pain is on your body or on a drawing of a body.
  • How strong is the pain?
  • Have there been changes in where or when the pain occurs?
  • What makes the pain better or worse?
  • Is the pain worse during certain times of the day or night?

This information will be used to decide how to help relieve your pain. This may include drugs or other treatments. Your healthcare team will work with you to decide how much pain you can stand and how much improvement you should expect. After pain control is begun, the doctor will continue to assess how well it is working for you and make changes if needed.

The family or caregiver may be asked to give answers for a patient who has a problem with speech, language, or understanding.

A physical exam and tests will be done to help plan pain control.

The assessment will include the following:

  • Physical exam and history : An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of your health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.

  • Neurological exam : A series of questions and tests to check the brain, spinal cord, and nerve function. The exam checks your mental status, coordination, and ability to walk normally, and how well the muscles, senses, and reflexes work. This may also be called a neuro exam or a neurologic exam.

Your healthcare team will also assess your mental and spiritual needs.