When to Worry About Pain

Anytime you have pain it can cause you to worry. When you are dealing with a cancer diagnosis and treatment, you may feel that it is even harder to determine what is expected pain and discomfort and what is not. Below are some “rules” about when you should worry about pain.

Two-Week Rule

Your doctor should check any pain that lasts for more than two weeks. Often pain that lasts for two weeks is muscular or skeletal, and not a serious threat to your health. Many doctors use the “two-week rule” because musculoskeletal pain will often resolve within a two-week period. Also, a two-week delay in diagnosis is very unlikely to change someone’s prognosis, even if the pain is due to cancer. Though the two-week rule applies to most pain, sometimes you should ignore this rule and seek treatment sooner (see Rules 2, 3 and 4).

Acute Trauma Rule

A doctor should immediately check all pain associated with acute trauma, such as a car accident or a fall from a ladder. Usually people aren’t overly worried about cancer if they have trauma that results in immediate or even slightly delayed pain. However, the pain, treatment and recovery associated with that trauma could affect your cancer prognosis, treatment and time to recovery.

Worst Pain of My Life Rule

Any severe pain that doesn’t allow you to move about normally should be checked sooner rather than later. Often this type of pain is not cancer but may be the result of something serious such as a heart attack, appendicitis or ruptured blood vessel (aneurysm).

I Can’t Sleep Rule

Talk to your doctor about any pain that keeps you awake at night. Sometimes night pain is more serious than pain that occurs during the day with normal activities. However, keep in mind that musculoskeletal pain often bothers people at night. Hip bursitis or shoulder tendinitis often keeps people awake if they lie on the affected side. If you have cancer, don’t take any chances—report your symptoms to your doctor.

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