Indigenous Ceremony

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Q: What causes pain associated with bone metastasis?

When a cancer has spread to a bone, it causes the structure of the bone to break down or to become abnormal. This also can cause swelling in the area. During these processes, the body sends a signal to the brain that there’s something wrong with that part of the body, which produces the sensation of pain. The pain of a bone metastasis is usually described as a dull, aching pain that makes the area tender and sensitive to pressure. The pain may be worse with movement. It’s usually felt in the area where the metastasis is located. Bone pain also can be referred, which means the pain can be felt in another place, but this isn’t common.

Because of the damaged bone structure, a person with bone metastasis is prone to bone breaks. These fractures can range from very small to large and also can cause pain.

There are unique issues when the metastasis is in the bones of the spine. The bony portions of the spine protect the spinal cord. If these are damaged, or if there’s swelling around the damaged bone, there can be pressure on the spinal cord. This pressure can cause pain to the nerves in the spinal cord. The nerve pain, called neuropathic pain, is described as burning, with sudden, sharp, knife-like sensations. It may feel numb or tingling, like the sensation of hitting a funnybone. Neuropathic pain is very different from bone pain, but it also can be a result of bone metastasis.

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