Researchers say that controlling pain and discomfort arising from cancer treatment can speed up recovery for children battling the disease.
Experts at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital suggest that tumors press on nerves, bones and organs; radiation can damage the skin and mucus membranes; and chemotherapy agents can cause harsh side effects.
Moreover, acute pain increases a patient's heart and respiratory rates, metabolism, blood pressure and stress hormones. Children who are hurting need more oxygen.
"Chronic pain influences the immune system, so patients don't heal as well. Research also shows that patients don't breathe as well when in pain, causing a higher risk of pulmonary complications after surgery," said Dr Doralina Anghelescu, Anesthesiology Division at St. Jude.
"Patients in pain don't eat as well or sleep as well either. Pain management benefits the whole body," Anghelescu added.
Anghelescu is also the director of the Pain Management Service at St. Jude.
The Pain Management staff also teach families how they can comfort their children during treatment, giving them a role in the healing process.
"The more parents know about pain, the better they will be able to help their child. It is important for them to understand the kind of pain the child is having, what influences the pain and the best way to cope with the pain," Anghelescu added.
Parents know their child better than anyone, so it's important to tell the doctor or nurse if the child is acting differently than normal. Parents should talk to their children about what they are feeling and thinking.
They should inform the child about what is happening, if he or she wants to know about it. Parents can make physical contact with their child by holding hands or giving hugs and if possible, parents should remain with their child until the pain is controlled.
"These techniques may not be a substitute for pain medication, but they can help the pain medicines work better," Anghelescu said.
"Emotions can influence the amount of pain, and attitudes from other people play a role. It is important for parents to be careful not to reinforce negative thoughts, beliefs and emotions," the expert added.